• Center for Problem oriented policing

previous page next page

Responses to the Problem of Hate Crimes

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem.

It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law-enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: carefully consider whether others in your community share responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. The responsibility of responding, in some cases, may need to be shifted toward those who have the capacity to implement more effective responses. For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems.

For further information on managing the implementation of response strategies, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 7, Implementing Responses to Problems.

General Considerations for an Effective Strategy

1. Prioritizing the response to hate crime within the police department. Police departments that create a culture that takes the investigation of hate crimes seriously are more likely to have officers that enforce hate crime laws and adhere to the department's policies in addressing them.42 For example, issuing reminders to your department's officers about the importance of hate crimes at regular intervals will make clear to them that the department prioritizes the policing of hate crimes. Similarly, setting aside specific times during the year to publicly condemn hate crimes will underscore to the public that the department does not tolerate hate crimes. Agencies should also work with majority-community leaders such as public officials, and religious and business leaders to speak out against hate crimes and violence so that citizens understand that these crimes are not supported or accepted by their community.43 Other means of prioritizing the police response to hate crimes include creating specialized hate-crime units, establishing liaisons for minority communities, or creating multi-agency task forces to better understand hate crime in a community.

Some of the advantages of having a hate-crime unit are that personnel develop a specialized expertise and can thus review and validate suspected cases of bias. Officers are also able to foster relationships with community agencies and prosecutors. Although there has not been much research that examines the effectiveness of hate-crime units, there is some evidence that such units send a positive message to the community that hate crimes are taken seriously, and this in turn could improve police-community relations, and lead to increased hate-crime reporting from the community.44 There is some concern that even in departments with specialized units the level of organizational commitment to policing hate crimes is weak.45 It is recognized that smaller police agencies likely lack the resources to create specialized units. Such departments could instead designate one officer or supervisor and provide them with specialized training to respond to and investigate all suspected hate crimes. This approach is more effective than a decentralized approach where officers from all districts/precincts receive specialized hate-crime training and are subsequently responsible for investigating hate crimes that occur in their area. The decentralized approach has several disadvantages. First, hate crimes are not randomly distributed within a community and many geographic areas will not experience any hate crimes. Second, since the officers work few cases, they are not able to build a working knowledge that will help them better understand hate crimes. Third, since a single officer is usually trained for a specific area, the officer is not able to benefit from interactions with others about a case.

Importantly, technology can be used to bolster these initiatives. For example, technology could be applied to scan police reports or narratives supplied by detectives to look for hate language or phrases. This may identify incidents that were not initially classified as hate crimes but should have been.

2. Establishing multi-agency task forces. Establishing task forces to coordinate across agencies composed of federal, state, other local police agencies and prosecutor offices will facilitate the sharing of information about violent hate groups and hate-crime suspects between and among departments. Police departments can also draw upon needed resources that they may lack, such as crime labs, software programs, advanced technical programs, databases on perpetrators or hate groups, and even additional trained personnel that their agency partners possess.46 For example, in the early 1990s the Sacramento Police Department formed a multiagency task force to respond to a series of hate arsons. This task force coordinated and balanced the demands of the various involved agencies and eventually arrested the perpetrator.47 Similarly, and more recently, the New York City Police Department's Hate Crime Task Force has played an important role in reducing hate crimes and racial tension in that city.48

The Simon Wiesenthal Center brings together multijurisdictional teams for a four-day intensive training effort that results in a comprehensive community coordination plan on how to most effectively address hate crimes. This training includes sessions on the (i) characteristics of hate crimes and offenders, (ii) understanding hate groups, (iii) identifying tensions that exist between groups, (iv) responding to hate crimes, (v) outlining promising strategies, and (vi) discussing successful collaborations that have occurred. In addition, there is also discussion of the use of the Internet by hate groups and combating this significant problem.

Specific Responses to Reduce Hate Crimes

3. Training police officers. Officer training should cover cultural awareness; how to correctly identify and categorize hate crimes (such as using an established check-sheet to aid in classification decisions); and how to investigate hate offenses, classify the perpetrator, interview and interact sensitively with the victim, act with the victim's community, and collaborate with the prosecutor's office. Taking into account the victim's distinct needs could ensure a better relationship with the victim and their community and thus reduce the community's fear and trauma, thereby encouraging better hate-crimes reporting. Training should improve hate-crime investigations and increase the likelihood of conviction and punishment of offenders, improve the assistance provided to hate-crime victims, and improve the response to the target community including better explanations of offenders' motives and identity. These benefits can enhance prevention efforts and increase hate-crime reporting.49 Realize though, that increased reporting will result in "increased" numbers of hate crimes. But, this does not represent ineffective responses; instead it reflects a successful response. Thus, as noted below in response 7, reaching out to minority communities to accurately convey these developments is important.

4. Responding to hate-crime victims' needs. Hate-crime incidents should be responded to quickly and thoroughly. Doing so conveys to the victim and the community that police take hate crimes seriously, which also encourages others to report their victimization to the police. The quality of the police response is important for building trust between the agency and the offended community. Hate-crime victims may require special responses. A professional translator may be needed to communicate effectively with the victim. Relying on community translators (e.g., the victim's friend or family member) might not be effective if the victim is hesitant to discuss their victimization within their community. The investigating officer should explain the process to the victim, and assist them in accessing victim support services and community advocacy (by providing packets or contact information). The officer should also convey verbal support and understanding to the victim and allow the victim to express their thoughts and anxieties. Officers must be aware of possible special fears that the victim may have of the police or of their victimization or status being publicized. Importantly, the officer should provide the victim a specific point of contact so they can follow up and receive updates about this incident and assistance with their other needs. In addition, officers need to be aware of community resources that might help victims. In San Diego, for example, a victim assistance volunteer is brought in to assist victims, make them aware of resources, and keep them informed about the status of their case. Such relationships are important since the police are not always able to meet all victim needs on their own.

5. Increasing police presence and attention in high-risk neighborhoods. Pay more attention to and closely monitor areas that are more likely to experience more hate crimes. For instance, since hate crimes are more likely in areas with growing numbers of minorities and that are more socially disorganized, these areas should receive more police attention.50 Although small agencies might not have the resources to specifically assign personnel to an area for a significant period of time, such agencies could strategically use specific interventions in these areas if there appears to be an increase in hate activity.

6. Monitoring hate groups and tracking hate incidents. Collecting information on violent hate groups and recording lawful hate activity (like leafleting or demonstrating by a white supremacist group) can itself improve minority community-police relations by demonstrating police commitment to addressing and preventing hate crime. Monitoring hate groups that participate in criminal activities may identify potentially threatening members. Since increased lawful hate activity has been associated with subsequent hate crimes, documenting this activity should inform police resource allocation. By recording lawful hate activity, the police could prevent illegal activity by hate-group opponents.51

You must be mindful of First Amendment protections for some forms of hateful speech and demonstrations, and that includes making sure not to improperly infringe upon constitutionally protected free speech. As the FBI notes, "hate itself is not a crime and [one] must be mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties."52 Similarly, you should be cautious when collecting data about hate-crime groups. Stay abreast of legal restrictions on the intelligence collection process. Intelligence about hate-crime groups can only be collected once a criminal predicate is established. Analysis of the characteristics of hate-crime groups in a jurisdiction should thus be limited to those groups involved in violence or other criminal activities. However, do consider establishing communications with non-violent extremist organizations operating in your jurisdiction. This outreach could include peacefully discussing issues of concern, assuring them that their free-speech rights will be protected, and encouraging them to focus on lawful activities while stressing that violence and hate crimes will not be tolerated.53

For both responses 6 and 7, technology could be used to map violent hate groups' headquarters or "hangouts," as well as the changing demographics of both perpetrator and victim groups. This could help you visualize change and where problems might originate.

7. Reaching out to minority communities. Try to build strong relationships with support organizations that interact with potential victims. Provide information and training so that officers have a better understanding about specific communities, their customs, languages, fears, and vulnerabilities. In communities where English is a second language for many residents, try to assign officers who are fluent in the dominant language and/or familiar with that culture. Co-sponsor and participate in community events and conduct direct mailings (including multi-lingual education campaigns) to community members. Since community members may distrust the police and be fearful of publicizing their victimization by going to a police station, make hate-crime reporting forms available in community organizations and online, and train organization staff about the reporting process.

Establish toll-free reporting hotlines. For example, a police department in Great Britain was concerned that anti-gay hate crimes were underreported in its jurisdiction. The agency installed a touch screen kiosk in a local gay community venue to provide easy access for people to report anti-gay hate crimes and access support agencies. The online completed forms were sent to the organization that ran the community venue. If the victims requested that the report be forwarded to the police the organization then did so.

This strategy was deemed successful because it increased victims' confidence to report these crimes and also resulted in increased reporting of these crimes.54 Other departments have communicated successes like these to the public via both the general and local community presses.55 Such successful outreach programs could have a broader impact on police community relations beyond hate crimes. It could increase the perceived legitimacy of the police and enhance community policing and other police tactics more generally.

Another step to take is to increase public awareness of hate crimes and educate target groups about strategies to reduce their vulnerability to hate crimes. Offenders have at times selected victims because they perceived them to be "easy marks," unlikely to fight back or report the crime.56 Educate community members to be cautious of walking alone while inebriated, late at night, especially in areas that have been found to be hate crime hot spots. Some police departments have distributed multi-lingual videos that contain this type of information to help warn community members.57 Stress that reporting hate crimes to police is safe and will be taken seriously. Publicize specific initiatives that have been undertaken to encourage and/or improve the reporting of hate-crime victimizations.58

8. Engaging educational institutions and the mass media. Collaborate with educational institutions and the mass media to teach students, staff, and the general public about hate crimes and hate groups' recruitment tactics. Target all levels of educational institutions (elementary, middle-school, high school, and college) and emphasize tolerance.59

Responses with Limited Effectiveness

9. Treating hate crimes as regular crimes. Because hate crimes cause special psychological fear and harm to both the individual victim and the targeted community, they merit special police attention. Even if the argument that crimes motivated by hate should be treated no differently by the courts than those not motivated by hate has some legal merit, it does not follow that the entire police response should be no different for hate crimes than it is for regular crimes. Effective police responses will encourage better hate-crime reporting, prevent retaliatory hate crimes, and help maintain community cohesion and public safety.

previous page next page