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AG’s Hate Crimes Working Group releases recommendations to Legislature

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group released its report to the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee today, outlining a comprehensive approach to better address hate crimes in Washington. The group calls on the state to improve training for law enforcement, create new avenues for prosecutors to charge crimes and for schools and employers to better educate people about hate and bias.

“The need to improve how Washington state handles hate crimes has rarely been more clear or urgent,” Ferguson said. “This report provides a road map so we can demonstrate our commitment to the safety of all Washingtonians.”

Hate crimes in Washington

Washington state law defines a hate crime as an assault, threat, or property damage motivated by race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or mental, physical or sensory disability.

State data showed an increase in reported hate crimes from 175 in 2002 to 534 in 2018. Hate crimes are historically underreported.

The Legislature created the working group with support from the Attorney General’s Office in the 2019 legislative session with the goal of developing strategies to raise awareness of hate crimes and enhance law enforcement and the public’s responses to hate crimes and incidents. Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle sponsored the bill and the Attorney General’s Office testified in support.

The 15-member, bipartisan group, with diverse membership including law enforcement and affected communities, adopted its 20 recommendations without any dissenting votes. Most votes were unanimous. There were three abstentions.   

Members of the working group included:

Recommendations for law enforcement

The group recommends that the state provide the Criminal Justice Training Commission resources to develop hate crimes training, and require law enforcement officers to complete the training.

The report also recommends that law enforcement agencies assign crimes with a possible bias motive to a detective for additional screening and mandatory contact with the victim, as well as designate a Hate Crimes Liaison to track and monitor hate crimes and bias incidents. The liaison should serve as a resource for community members.

In order to enhance transparency of hate crimes data, the report also recommends including jurisdiction information for hate crimes in the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ annual Crime in Washington report, and require reporting from all jurisdictions. This will identify where hate crimes are reported and where additional outreach may be needed to encourage victims to report crimes.

Recommendations for prosecutors

The working group recommends the Legislature provide prosecutors an additional tool by amending the law to make bias an aggravating factor in any crime. The group recommends the Legislature make hate crime offenders subject to community custody.

The report also recommends that the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys develop a pilot program to track data and publicly share information on filing practices for hate crimes, as well as providing specific training at its statewide conference.

Other recommendations

For schools, the group recommends requiring schools to post discriminatory harassment policy and procedures to inform students about their rights. Additionally, the group recommended enhancing teacher training on cultural competence.

For employers, the group recommended posting information on bias incidents and hate crimes, as well as how to report them. The group also recommends the state conduct research on the feasibility of a mandatory reporting scheme for workplace hate crimes and additional protections for vulnerable workers, such as whistleblower protections.

The Hate Crimes Advisory Working Group fulfills its statutory obligation with the report but plans to meet informally in the fall to continue its work. In the report, members called for an ongoing statewide coordinating body to combat hate and bias within the attorney general’s office. The body would develop a public website to provide information and reporting options, create a public awareness campaign, and offer interactive workshops to bring together law enforcement and communities impacted by hate crimes, among other activities.

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