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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 17, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 20
Seattle hate crime reports up 400% since 2012, city audit says
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Seattle hate crime reports up 400% since 2012, city audit says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Hate-crime reports in Seattle have increased 25% since 2017 and an astonishing 400% since 2012, a new report from the Office of the City Auditor says.

The report, released May 9, records 521 hate crimes, crimes with bias elements, and noncriminal bias incidents reported to Seattle police in 2018. The study was requested by Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

There were 125 reports of hate crimes (also called 'malicious harassment'), 215 reports of crimes with bias elements, and 181 reports of noncriminal bias incidents last year.

In 2012, there were only 106 reports across all three of those categories, including 28 hate crimes. Hate crimes include assault, bodily harm, or property damage motivated by bias against the victim's real or perceived characteristics.

But prosecutions of hate crimes are rare, however, with fewer than 40 convictions for hate crimes in Seattle from 2012 through 2017.

The Seattle Police Department refers about a third of reported hate crimes for prosecution, the study says. But the department lacks sufficient data to evaluate its own efforts to prevent and respond to hate crimes, according to the Office of the City Auditor. When the department decides not to refer reported hate crimes for prosecution, it doesn't document the reasons why.

Hate crimes in Washington state law include crimes related to race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities. Seattle ordinances also cover crimes related to homelessness, marital status, political ideology, age, and parental status.

The report cautions that the number may reflect better reporting of crime than an actual increase in the numbers of crimes committed.

'A rise in reported hate crimes does not necessarily mean there are more of these crimes occurring,' the study says. 'Jurisdictions that report more hate crimes are typically seen as leaders in hate-crime response efforts, because high reporting can indicate law enforcement is prioritizing these crimes.'

In Seattle, reported assaults have increased more than hate crimes involving only harassment and threats. Crimes involving racial bias have increased more than those involving sexual orientation or religion.

Hate crimes tend to be concentrated in high-traffic, demographically diverse parts of town - Downtown and Capitol Hill, for example - and along the borders of racially diverse neighborhoods, the city auditor found.

Nearly a quarter of Seattle hate-crime cases prosecuted from 2012 through 2017 occurred on buses or at bus stops, and nearly a third occurred on the street, according to the study.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said in a statement that her department is an international leader in dealing with hate crimes, but she agreed that it could do more to document information about crimes. The department is already making strides, and a new police records system should help, Best added.

Herbold said she will lead a City Council committee discussion on new legislation that would allow the Seattle city attorney's office 'to more easily prosecute misdemeanor hate-crime cases.'

'It's not enough to know that these crimes are being committed,' Herbold said, adding that 'divisive rhetoric' from the Trump administration fueled growing white nationalism and domestic terrorism.

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