AG Weiser targets hate crime reporting across the state and Aurora

124

AURORA | Following a 16-percent increase in reported hate crimes in Colorado last year, the state attorney general’s office is partnering with 18 community groups, including several in Aurora, to combat such offenses and bolster reporting. 

Aurora has seen a reduction in reported hate crimes, according to local officials. But the overall picture is complex in the city, and across the greater Aurora region.

Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser announced on Monday that his office is seeking to add educational resources and possibly bolster anti-bias training for all law enforcement agents in the state who are certified by the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, according to Lawrence Pacheco, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. 

“We will not tolerate the targeting of individuals with hate simply because of who they are or how they pray,” Weiser said in a statement issued earlier this week. “The Attorney General’s Office will do all it can to ensure law enforcement agencies are responding effectively to an increase in hate incidents and crimes in Colorado.”

Across the state last year, 37 law enforcement agencies reported 121 hate crime-related incidents, according to statistics compiled by the FBI. In 2017, 43 agencies reported 106 hate crime incidents. 

There were 7,120 hate-crime related incidents across the U.S. last year, which marked a roughly 1 percent decrease from 2017.

Pacheco said the Attorney General’s Office is still analyzing possible reasons why the state saw an increase in hate crimes in 2018 despite a national decline. 

Hate crimes, which can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors at the federal or state level, involve “a threat or act of intimidation, harassment, or physical force that is motivated by bias against a person or group based on their actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, color, ancestry or sexual orientation,” according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. In addition to physical confrontations or threats, hate crimes can take the form of graffiti, phone calls, emails and letters.

Weiser’s office is teaming up with 18 community groups, including the Aurora Branch of the NAACP, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation and the Asian Pacific Development Center, to train police on how to recognize and report hate crimes, improve reporting by victims and provide resources to frequently targeted groups. 

“People of faith, LGBTQ individuals and people of color are the most frequently targeted, so I believe that those will be priority communities,” Pacheco said. “But obviously this partnership is interested in addressing hate crimes targeted toward any group in the state of Colorado.”

More than half of all hate crimes reported across the country are related to race, with about 19 percent related to religion and 17 percent tied to sexual orientation, according to the FBI. The remaining crimes stem from gender identity and disability. 

Nearly half of the 5,155 national victims of racial hate crimes in 2018 were black, according to the FBI, and more than half of the 1,617 victims of religious hate crimes were Jewish. Nearly 60 percent of the 1,445 victims of hate crimes tied to sexual orientation were gay men.

In Aurora, the number of hate crimes reported in the city in 2018 dropped for the first time in four years, according to FBI data. Aurora police reported 10 hate crimes across the city last year, compared to 18 the year before. That’s still a bump from the three such crimes reported in 2012, or the six in 2013, according to the FBI. 

Still, a higher number of hate crime-related cases have ended up in state courts in recent years, despite the relatively low number of cases reported to the FBI by local police, according to data from the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. 

District Attorney George Brauchler’s office, which oversees state crimes committed in Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties, filed 21 cases with either a bias-motivated or ethnic harassment charge in 2017, all but three of which were filed in Arapahoe County, according to court data. Last year, Brauchler’s office handled 22 such cases with 16 offenses that originated in Arapahoe County. 

A request for hate-crime related filings in north Aurora’s 17th Judicial District was not immediately returned.

This year, the Arapahoe County DA’s office introduced six hate crime-related cases through the first seven months of the year. The majority of the local hate crime court cases in recent years have been misdemeanors.  

Earlier this month, an Arapahoe County District Court Judge sentenced a 41-year-old Aurora man to 16 years in prison for shooting and maiming his gender-fluid neighbor on a bias-motivated basis in July 2018. Two years ago, the same judge sentenced 29-year-old Long Ngoc Hoang to three years in prison for assaulting a gay couple at an Arapahoe County swimming pool. 

The increases in hate crimes in Aurora and across the state in recent years may be due to more people reporting the offenses, which are historically tacit, according to Brauchler. 

“In some cases like this, victims don’t report, and if they don’t for whatever reason, we don’t have the opportunity to prosecute,” Brauchler said in a statement issued after Hoang was sentenced in October 2017 for assaulting the couple at the pool.

That’s largely why Weiser’s office wants to double down on reporting. 

“While greater reporting is concerning because it indicates there is a greater number of hate crimes occurring across the state, it is actually good,” Pacheco said. ” … The attorney general has said that you can’t address something that you can’t see, so our effort is to increase and improve reporting across the state.”

Despite an increase in reported hate crimes in Aurora since the start of the decade, other large jurisdictions still have a ways to go, according to Pacheco. 

“There are a number of jurisdictions across the state, highly populated areas, that have had no reporting in the past year and that is something that is just hard to believe that a population center would be not reporting any hate crimes,” he said.  

Several jurisdictions with populations clocking in north of 100,000 residents, including Arvada, Lakewood, Greeley, Pueblo, Thornton, and Westminster, reported no hate crimes in 2018, according to the FBI.

Scott Levin, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region, lauded Weiser’s efforts, and said increased reporting can bolster relations between communities and police departments. 

“Studies have shown that more comprehensive and complete hate crime reporting can deter hate violence,” Levin said in a statement. “Better data will assist in properly allocating police and community resources. Most importantly, improved reporting can advance police-community relations.”  

Aurora police have held trainings with the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, originally founded to combat anti-Semitism, “in the past,” according to Officer Tony Camacho, spokesman for the Aurora Police Department. He added that all new Aurora police recruits receive four hours of training with the ADL while in the police training academy. 

How often the new hate crime coalition will convene remains to be determined, Pacheco said.

The Denver District Attorney’s Office, Denver Police Department and local branch of the FBI will also work with Weiser’s office and community groups as part of the new partnership.