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Bias Crimes Audit released by City Auditor
Bias Crimes Audit released by City Auditor
by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

The City of Seattle's Bias Crimes Audit debuted to mixed reviews Wednesday, before the Seattle City Council's Committee on Culture, Civil Rights, Health, and Personnel. Committee Chair Nick Licata was joined by City Council members Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen to receive the report from Mary Denzel of the Office of the City Auditor (OCA). Licata, Clark, and Rasmussen had requested the audit after a recent upsurge in violent hate crimes in the Capitol Hill area. Mike Hogan of the King County Prosecutor's Office and Director Julie Nelson of the City's Office of Civil Rights were invited to join them. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) was also invited to send spokespeople to the City Council hearing, but none were available to attend.

The Bias Crimes Audit detailed crimes in 2006 and 2007, evaluated SPD practices, and made recommendations for improvement. Overall, the report found "the City is adequately addressing bias crimes. SPD's policy and procedures, with minor exceptions, are comprehensive and detailed and place a high value on bias crime enforcement." The OCA also called for improvement in incident tracking, community outreach, and SPD training and coordination.

Community activist Ken Molsberry, author of a groundbreaking report detailing hate crimes in the period of 2000-2005, was critical of the audit's description of SPD methods as "adequate." During the public comment period, Molsberry said, "I'm concerned the SPD is being given a pass on inadequate data collection. The SPD is not following adequate procedures."

"Has the data collection been adequate?" Molsberry asked. "I noted the report found a four and one-half-month gap in the data for 2006. If data for more than one-third of the year is missing, that means substantial under-reporting of crimes." Molsberry called on the OCA to rewrite their report and note that the available data is not sufficient to support the OCA's conclusions.

The OCA's Mary Denzel acknowledged the gap in reported data. Files from the East Precinct on Capitol Hill revealed at least six bias crimes during the four and one-half-month period in question, she noted. It is not known why those cases were not included in the reported data, or if other SPD precincts also recorded bias crimes during that period. While no SPD officers were present to comment on the report, they were shown drafts and asked for their response. According to Denzel, the SPD objected to characterization of their work as merely adequate. "They felt they were better than adequate," she said.

"The report's recommendations are strong," Molsberry said after the hearing, "but reporting is the key. The citizens of Seattle need to know how many crimes have occurred, where, and who is being targeted."

Others at the hearing also cast doubt on the completeness of the data reported in the Audit. Assistant Prosecutor Mike Hogan noted that "the largest group of unreported bias crimes are those against immigrants, and I'm afraid we're going to see more of these." Jafar Siddiqui, representing American Muslims of Puget Sound, added, "people are afraid of reporting hate crimes. I know personally some Yemenis who were beaten up because they look, you know, like Muslims, like terrorists to some people. These kids are scared to put their names on a complaint." Absent a complaint to police, incidents will not be recorded as crimes.

Other incidents may go unreported because police officers fail to perceive them as bias crimes. Hogan noted that this may give the impression that the SPD lacks a commitment to protecting particular communities. "Even one case that's not flagged as a bias crime can give a whole community the misperception that the City doesn't care about their safety," he said.

City Council member Nick Licata, whose committee commissioned the Audit, said, "These recommendations hit close to home. A friend of mine was attacked by four men this weekend after being called a 'fag' while walking with a person dressed in drag. Media accounts indicate that the police report for the assault indicate neither of these details. My office has requested a copy of the police report. One of the primary recommendations of the audit is that SPD do better tracking of bias crimes and incidents. It's not likely that the crime of assault can be flagged and properly prosecuted as a bias crime if the police report doesn't include critical details like these."

"Seattle is only recording and reporting the bare minimum information," added City Council member Tom Rasmussen. "We should begin tracking hate incidents and issuing an annual comprehensive report beyond the federal requirements. To be a leader in preventing and acting against bias crimes, Seattle must produce better information on what we are experiencing in the community."

Rasmussen also stressed the importance of implementing the Audit's recommendations. "It's important for the SPD to follow up," he said. "They need to tell us what they're going to do, and in what time frame. The SPD response so far has just been to acknowledge the audit. That's different from a strong commitment to follow through on the recommendations." Newly elected City Council member Tim Burgess, Chair of the Council's Public safety, Human Services, and Education Committee, which has oversight over the SPD, has promised to hold hearings on the Audit later this year.

The Audit reported 27 bias crime incident reports in 2006 - not counting those that may have occurred in the gap between July and November 2006 - resulting in three arrests, with no convictions; in 2007 there were 52 incident reports, resulting in 24 arrests, one conviction and three cases still pending. Of the bias crimes reported in 2006 and 2007, 52% targeted race or national origin, 29% sexual orientation, 10% religion, 4% transgender people, and 5% miscellaneous others. Most of the incidents occurred in the Downtown, Capitol Hill, and Central District neighborhoods, where the target populations are typically concentrated.

For the purposes of the Audit, "bias crimes" are defined as criminal acts including assault, threat of bodily harm or property damage committed against a person because of real or perceived characteristics like race, religion, or sexual orientation. "Bias crimes" include graffiti, which is considered property damage, and threatening hate speech, which can be considered assault, but usually does not include name-calling or other non-threatening speech protected under the First Amendment.

The full Bias Crimes Audit can be read online at http://www.seattle.gov/audit/2008.htm#biasReport. To read the full report, "Bias Crimes and Incidents in Seattle: 2000 to 2005: An Analysis by Type of Bias and Neighborhood," written by Ken Molsberry and edited by Kristina Armenakis of the Hate Crime Awareness Project and Seattle LGBT Community Center, go to tinyurl.com/plj72.
pictures: top Clark
bottom: Licata, Rasmussen,

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