In a report released Wednesday, City Auditor David Jones found some problems with how the Seattle Police Department (SPD) handles hate crimes and hate incidents, including how accurately the department tracks the data, how it trains officers, and how well it communicates with other City departments and law enforcement in the region.
As the Seattle Times reports, one issue is underreporting hate crimes and hate incidents. The problem was fixed in July, but it went on for at least four years. Between 2012 and 2016, around 17,000 reports per year were marked with “unknown” in the bias category — which means that if the incident involved bias, that part went unreported. This just changed in July, with officers forced to choose a bias category or write “no bias.”
The City audit also recommended officers receive more training in identifying hate incidents and that SPD work on crime prevention. It suggested City departments and regional entities should do better at coordinating information and responses to hate incidents.
The audit was requested by Councilmember Lisa Herbold (Chair of the Committe on Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts) after a rise in hate crimes and incidents in 2016.
Detective Elizabeth Wareing of the department’s Bias Crime Unit told the Times that bias incidents have been increasing since 2012 — and there’s been a jump in reports this year. She said it’s not clear how much of this is due to better reporting, but that the 2016 election definitely had something to do with it.
The legal term for “hate crimes” in Seattle is “malicious harassment” and can include threatening someone, injuring them or damaging their property because of a protected status they have, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability and more. In Seattle, protected status can include homelessness, age, gender identity and more.
Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole wrote in response that the audit didn’t provide enough context for SPD’s response to hate incidents, and might give people the impression “that we do not take these crimes seriously — which is simply not true.”
Read the full report here.