Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently launched a Hate Crime Working Group with the goal of developing strategies to raise awareness of hate crimes, and enhance law enforcement and the public’s responses to these incidents.
The Hate Crime Working Group, which was created in the 2019 legislative session, had its first public meeting Sept. 6 in Seattle. The Attorney General’s Office testified in support of the bill, which state Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, sponsored.
“In creating this working group, Washington is demonstrating its commitment to the safety of all its residents, regardless of their gender, national origin or religion,” Ferguson said.
“Our Hate Crimes Advisory Working Group will be taking a hard look at what kind of hate crimes are happening in Washington and how we can strengthen our response and support victims.”
Washington state law defines a hate, or “bias-motivated,” crime as a crime or threat against someone because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or mental, physical or sensory handicaps.
In 2018, the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs received 765 reports of offenses where the victim was targeted for one of those characteristics, according to a news release.
A survey by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics states that more than 200,000 people over the age of 12 were victims of hate incidents each year from 2013 to 2017. The bureau estimates that victims or their families only reported about half of those incidents to law enforcement.
“Lack of reporting and incomplete data at the federal level make it difficult for Washington law enforcement agencies to understand the full impact that hate crimes have on their communities,” the news release stated.
“The working group will research and propose best practices on how Washington can increase reporting and strengthen responses from law enforcement and prosecutors. The group also will research how to best support victims of hate crimes.”
The Attorney General’s Office must report the working group’s recommendations to Gov. Inslee and the state Legislature by July 1, 2020.