Bias crimes are up 230 percent in Seattle, new audit finds

SEATTLE – Federal law enforcement agencies say incidents of vandalism spurred by hate are happening more often in our area.

Local governments are seeing the trend. Reports of racial, religious and homophobic hate crimes are higher than they’ve been in the last five years.

The City of Seattle has been crunching the numbers and they show hate crimes are on a sharp increase, up 230 percent between 2012 and November of 2016.

“We don’t want any of this happening in our community,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said Tuesday. “The more we can shine the light on where this happens to help us with policies to figure out how we can reduce it or eliminate it.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked the city’s auditor to collect the data.

“Together it tells the full picture of what’s happening in our community and how our diverse community is being treated by others,” Herbold said.

The report shows what religious minorities, people of color, and LGBT communities already know –those groups have faced the highest rates of bias crimes in the city.

“We would love to think it’s just Trump country (but) it is also here in Seattle that we are having challenges like this,” said Gender Justice League executive director Danni Askini, who said she’s seen the attacks increase in neighborhoods across the city.

“I think people are reporting a little bit more, which is positive. We want to know when hate crimes happen so we can address them as a community."

In 2016, the Idriss Mosque in Northgate was targeted by a man making online threats.

In another prominent 2016 case, Michael Volz - a transgender man - was viciously assaulted on Capitol Hill.

“I’m hurt, but I feel encouraged by the people around me who showed up,” Volz said.

Police say bias was the motive.

“The numbers are not that surprising,” Askini said. “We’ve been following pretty close since 2012 and have definitely seen a year-over-year increase. Every year, there have been more anti-LGBT and anti-black hate crimes in Seattle.”

Now, Seattle police officers are tracking data points like never before in categories like age, parental and marital status, and political ideology.

The point of all this, says Herbold, is to track where bias crimes are happening so the city can come up with a plan to minimize their impact, especially on Seattle’s most vulnerable communities.

“It’s really important, not just for victims to come forward but for bystanders to speak up as well,” Herbold said. “And know that we have stronger communities when we’re all taking care of each other.”

The report is the first phase in a multi-phase approach to identify bias crimes in the city. Phase two will focus on what happens to those reports once city attorneys and courts deal with crimes of bias.