Seattle Police Department officials say an increase in reports of bias crimes on Capitol Hill and across Seattle is actually progress and that more tools are coming to help the LGBTQ community report crimes and hate incidents.
In a report to the City Council public safety committee Wednesday afternoon, Lieutenant Michael Kebba said the rise in reports reflects an increased effort to encourage victims to tell police about bias incidents. “I don’t really see a lot of attack issues,” Kebba said.
Overall, there were 126 reported bias incidents in Seattle in 2014 up from 110 in 2013. In the East Precinct covering Capitol Hill, reports jumped to 34 “malicious harassments,” “crimes with bias elements,” and “bias incidents.”
The briefing to City Council highlighted a drop in reported bias crimes in the East Precinct in the second half of 2014 as the department rolled out emphasis patrols to help quell street crime but also noted a similar drop occurred in 2013:
Here’s how the 2014 second-half totals for East Precinct broke down:
The majority of reports were filed in the precinct’s Edward sector around Broadway and Pike/Pine.
SPD officials said Wednesday that Seattle has changed the way it tracks bias crime to include a broader scope of hate incidents and to track the totals on a monthly basis as part of the department’s data-driven SeaStat process. Kebba said an updated report on bias incidents in 2015 will be available this summer but acknowledged that there has been a “spike” in reports so far this year vs. 2014.
Overall city totals showed “anti-gay and lesbian” victims were the most frequently targeted group with 24% of the reported incidents tallied in the second half of 2014.
LGBTQ Liaison Officer Jim Ritter said a new website is being prepared to help the LGBTQ community report bias incidents and crimes. UPDATE: Details below.
Though he chalked up much of the increase in bias reports to increased awareness, Kebba told Council members SPD has made addressing hate crimes a priority and continues to deal with serious cases. As an example, Kebba cited the January knife attack on three men near Harvard and Pike involving a suspect who allegedly yelled derogatory remarks about their sexual orientation during the assault. The 37-year-old who was arrested is facing a hate crime charge in the case.
In 2014, the city was jolted by two high profile hate-related cases. Seattle Police say “extremist beliefs” drove Ali Brown to shoot to death two men he met while out at R Place as part of a nationwide crime and murder spree. Meanwhile, Musab Masmari was sentenced to 10 years for the New Year’s arson at Neighbours nightclub. While prosecutors and police say Masmari was clearly driven by anti-gay motivations, the case was not prosecuted as a hate crime.
In March, a community forum on LGBTQ hate crime was held on Capitol Hill.
Today Mayor Murray and Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole announced SPD Safe Place, a public education and visibility campaign aimed at preventing and responding to anti-LGBT bias crimes.
“Seattle welcomes all people,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “There is no place for bigotry or harassment in our city. We developed Safe Place so that businesses and community organizations can visibly stand up against intolerance and provide shelter to victims.”
SPD Safe Place is a voluntary program that provides businesses and organizations with decals and information on how to report malicious harassment, more commonly known as hate crimes. Training for these organizations includes when to call 911, sheltering victims of crime until police arrive and proactive outreach about working with the SPD’s LGBT liaison officer.
“Seattle Police officers work every day with the diverse communities of Seattle to ensure safety. SPD Safe Place is another way of connecting and educating those who live, work and visit Seattle about how the SPD can assist in times of crisis,” said Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
Businesses, organizations and educational institutions can request SPD Safe Place placards or posters and learn about how to work with police to prevent and address anti-LGBT crime concerns at spdsafeplace.com.