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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 13 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 24
FBI hate-crime data: Is Seattle really third worst in the country?
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FBI hate-crime data: Is Seattle really third worst in the country?

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On June 9, the Seattle Times published a short piece on the FBI's latest hate crime statistics, apparently showing that 'Seattle [is] among the worst big cities for anti-LGBT hate crimes.'

According to the FBI, in 2012, the latest year for which data has been complied, Seattle had three anti-LGBT hate crime incidents for every 100,000 residents - behind Washington, DC (7.3 incidents per 100,000) and Memphis, Tennessee (3.2 incidents), but ahead of Buffalo, New York (2.7) and Kansas City, Kansas (2.6).

The paradox is that, as the Times acknowledges, 'Seattle enjoys a reputation as one of the most welcoming cities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.'

So what do the FBI statistics mean? Is Seattle really unsafe for LGBT residents?

According to Seattle Police Department spokesperson Drew Fowler, 'We don't know what the statistics mean. It may have been technical changes in how the reporting is done, it may have been that we're being more aggressive on getting the reports.'

'I don't want to minimize the issue,' he added. 'We want to make sure the LGBTQ community feels as safe as we can make then feel.'

In 2008, SPD launched a major reform of the way it collects and reports hate crime data, in response to an increase in anti-LGBT crimes at that time. When asked if that might be partially responsible for the large number of anti-LGBT crimes reported, Fowler answered, 'I'd love to think that's the truth of the matter.'

Fowler concluded that whatever the explanation for the FBI's numbers, '[SPD] wants the LGBTQ community to help us help them by reporting all hate crimes.'

Local FBI spokesperson Ayn Dietrich told SGN that Seattle's LGBT community should not jump to conclusions based on the statistical reports.

'I always feel frustrated when I see stories like that,' she said. 'There are a lot of different ways to slice and dice the data. We just provide the numbers for what they are. You'd need a full statistical agency to analyze what they mean, and the FBI can't do that.'

In fact, the FBI website that reports hate crime data cautions against exactly the kind of 'ranking' that formed the basis for the Times story.

Like Fowler, Dietrich declined to speculate about what the statistics mean for the safety of the city's LGBT residents, but she did list some limitations on the FBI's reporting:

'First of all,' she explained, 'we're limited in our data collection, because it's all based on voluntary contributions from local law enforcement.'

Some cities do not report crime data to the FBI, she said, and some might send only incomplete reports. In Washington, for example, Olympia, Richland, Pasco, and Spokane sent no data at all to the FBI.

'Hate crimes are a federal violation, so many do get referred to the FBI,' Dietrich continued. 'That's expanded much more after the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act;

'Many times prosecution will go to the state because there are the same penalties, and the state may have more resources;

'There may also be bias involved in a crime, but it doesn't meet the federal definition of a hate crime, which involves threats, violent action, or intent to act.'

Name-calling or scrawling derogatory graffiti on someone's house, may be classified as bias crimes in Seattle, for example, but they are not considered hate crimes in federal law.

The concern for Seattle's LGBT community, however, is that even if the FBI's 2012 numbers speak more about successes in data collection than failures in public safety, they show a significant increase over the 2011 numbers. In 2011, the FBI reported 6 anti-LGBT hate crimes in Seattle, but 19 in 2012.

The situation did not change in 2013, either. According to SPD data not yet reported to the FBI, there were also 19 anti-LGBT hate crimes in Seattle last year.

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