Attorney General Phil Weiser and representatives from faith and anti-hate groups addressed an uptick in Colorado’s hate crimes with a message to victims: report to law enforcement.
“More and more incidents of hate are happening among young people,” said Weiser at a press conference. “We have to respond, and the first way we respond is we get better reporting.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which compiles the statistics, reported that there were 127 hate crimes in Colorado in 2018 — a 20% increase from 2017. In fact, last year was the first significant increase since 2015. Hate crimes leveled off at an average of 105 per year between 2015 and 2017.
“Reasonable estimates based on Department of Justice surveys indicate that probably at least 65%, perhaps more than 90% of victims of bias-motivated crime don’t report it to anyone,” said Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. “Some 7,000 or 8,000 crimes that are reported federally a year are literally the tip of the iceberg.”
The nonprofit foundation is named after the 21-year-old gay man whose 1998 murder resulted in federal hate crimes legislation that bore his name.
The FBI’s numbers revealed that over 57% of hate crimes in Colorado were centered around race or ethnicity. Twenty-one percent pertained to sexual orientation and gender identity, and an additional 19% centered on religion.
Anti-Jewish hate crimes made up the majority of religious incidents, with anti-black and anti-Latino acts comprising most of the racially-motivated crimes. The most common type of crime was intimidation.
Nationally, two-thirds of hate crimes took place against persons, while approximately 30% affected property.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police found that due to cultural barriers, distrust or fear of deportation, “some of the most likely targets of hate violence are the least likely to report these crimes to the police.”
Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Scott Levin said that if any LGBTQ, undocumented or persons of color were reluctant to talk to law enforcement, they should contact the ADL or other anti-hate organizations as an intermediary.
“They would be more than happy to talk to the people, provide them with support, and help make that connection to law enforcement,” Levin said.
The ADL posted an anti-hate crimes resource guide online after the press conference.
When asked what caused the rise in hate crimes, Weiser declined to point to a culprit, but alluded to “rhetoric that is more divisive” as another facet of the trend.
“There are people now who used to maybe guard their face when they engaged in acts of hate. Now they don’t,” Weiser said. “It’s becoming more socially acceptable in some environments. Part of what we have to do — all of us — is develop those social norms of, ‘this is unacceptable.’”
Calling himself a “proud Jew” and referring to his mother’s birth in a Holocaust concentration camp, Weiser pointed to the Nov. 1 arrest of a man who plotted to blow up a Pueblo synagogue and the Nov. 14 arrest of a rifle-wielding man yelling anti-Muslim comments outside of a Denver mosque as two recent high-profile incidents.
However, Weiser and the anti-hate representatives acknowledged that while getting more reports to law enforcement is beneficial, some police agencies are seemingly muting the crimes that occur in their jurisdiction.
“Reporting is done voluntarily by law enforcement agencies. In any given year, one in seven, one in eight, simply do not report,” said Marsden. “And too many more report affirmatively that no such crimes occurred in their jurisdiction in an entire year. Which, statistically, is not credible.”
The FBI indicates that in 2018, six cities with populations over 100,000 did not report a single hate crime. E-mails were sent to the police departments of Greeley, Lakewood, Pueblo, Thornton, Arvada and Westminster asking how confident they were that zero hate crimes occurred.
A spokesperson for the Arvada police department believed that they had arrested a man in connection with an assault on a transgender person, but would have to check the statistics.
“We’ve looked at these numbers and are confident, but that’s a very delicate and sensitive matter," said Westminster Sgt. Trevor Materasso. He explained that it is just as important to charge someone with a hate crime when the circumstances fit as it is to avoid misidentifying someone's motivation and mischarging them.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said through a spokesperson that the FBI collects data from departments in March, but “state agencies are still reporting and correcting in March and sometimes later.”
Of the 15,254 agencies in the country that reported to the FBI in 2016, nearly 90% indicated zero hate crimes.
Weiser said that numerous police departments in Colorado adopted “improvements and refinements to their intake paperwork” to make officers more aware of classifying a hate crime as such. Denver Police earlier this year created a bias-motivated investigative unit, for instance.
Federally, 16 U.S. senators have introduced the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer “NO HATE” Act that would establish assistance for states that voluntarily established hate crimes hot lines or trained law enforcement in how to report.
Weiser said that the General Assembly may turn toward more stringent reporting mandates.
“I do know those conversations are happening,” he said, “looking at these low or zero reporting rates and asking, ‘what’s going on here?’”