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Strategy: Rapid Response to Reported Hate Crime Incidents

Strategy Rapid and effective law enforcement response to hate violence demonstrates a tough attitude toward hate crime perpetrators while . . .


Rapid and effective law enforcement response to hate violence demonstrates a tough attitude toward hate crime perpetrators while demonstrating sensitivity to the special needs of victims.

Crime Problem Addressed

Government and private sources have documented increasing reports of hate violence. These criminal acts, in which the victim is targeted because of race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, are designed to intimidate victims and other members of the victim's community and leave them feeling isolated, vulnerable, and fearful. These crimes have a special emotional and psychological impact on the victims and exacerbate racial, religious, or ethnic tensions in the community.

Key Components

Forty-six states and the federal government have established increased penalties for hate crimes. These laws reassure targets of hate violence and deter these crimes by imposing serious punishment on the perpetrators. The Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA), enacted in 1990, requires the FBI to collect hate crime data from state and local law enforcement officials. Tracking hate crime data encourages victims to report these crimes and can help police anticipate sensitive issues in the aftermath of an incident.

Key Partnerships

Municipalities establish an integrated hate crime response network, including liaisons to local prosecutors, human rights commissions, and community-based victim advocacy organizations. Community-based groups and victim support organizations work with law enforcement to urge residents to report hate crimes and assist at the investigation and prosecution stages, help reduce the victim's sense of isolation and vulnerability, and analyze hate crime data for both their own constituents and the media. Police departments adopt a written policy regarding procedures for effective response to hate violence and train officers in how to identify, report, and respond to such crimes as well as how to deal with victims.

Potential Obstacles

Many police departments have failed to report HCSA statistics, citing the burden of additional paperwork, fears about negative publicity, or budget constraints. Active police response to hate violence may result in increased reports and prosecutions over those of neighboring, less attentive departments. However, even in departments that have specific hate crime guidelines, ambiguity in some cases remains.

Signs of Success

Working with civil rights groups, the law enforcement community has played a leadership role in supporting hate crime, penalty enhancement, and data collection initiatives. Police authorities have long recognized that tracking crime can help departments create preventive strategies and allocate resources. Virtually every state has statutes about hate violence, and 47 percent of 109 police departments surveyed have instituted policies on bias-motivated crime. For instance, Montgomery County, Maryland, established the Office of Human Relations Commission to deal with bias crimes, providing an array of services and educational information to the community. The Anti-Defamation League has published a book highlighting a large number of other cities that have pursued similar policies. Implementing procedures and dealing effectively with such crimes sends a message to the community that this type of crime is a serious problem and will be treated as such.

Applying the Strategy

In 1978, the Boston Police Department was the first department in the country to establish a Community Disorders Unit. The department has nine detectives, three interpreters, two sergeants, one lieutenant, one police officer, and one secretary. In 1978, the department handled 609 bias crime cases, compared with only 276 cases in 1993. In fact, one year the department recorded as few as 158 bias crime cases. Whereas the department used to handle many repeat cases (i.e., the same family repeatedly being tormented), repeat cases are now very rare. These decreases in bias crimes resulted from the department sending a clear message.

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