Lesson 1: Hate Crimes Affect Everyone and Victims Need Support
Hate crimes are not just about race or religion. According to Vest, a hate crime is a crime committed by someone who is substantially motivated by his or her bias against the other persons\’:
Perceived association with the above
Law enforcement should be on the lookout for these biases when investigating every crime. Vest also noted that victims of hate crimes often need more ongoing support than other victims, but this support can get lost in law enforcement\’s pursuit of hate crime prosecutions.
Lesson 2: Hate Crimes are Message Crimes
Vest notes that most hate crimes send a message of terror to an entire group and community; the victim is a vessel to send this message. For instance, the burning of a cross on an African-American family\’s lawn is a message of terror to the family, but it also sends a message to other African-American families that they are not welcome in the neighborhood, and they may be next.
Lesson 3: Be Sure to Report and Document Incidents
Officers need to document every hate and bias incident. Vest noted that a meticulous approach to reporting and documenting incidents helps her department eventually take many of these perpetrators off the streets. She explained that even relatively minor incidents like tire slashings need to be documented: “On the face it may not look like a hate incident, but when other incidents happen, it\’s important to have all this recorded to build a case. Don\’t discount small incidents.”
Lesson 4: Identify Symbols of Hate
Vest and her colleagues keep meticulous records on perpetrators. When they encounter members of hate groups, officers photograph tattoos, clothing, boots, hate paraphernalia, and anything that can be evidence of bias and hate against certain groups. When searching cars and homes they always look for signs and symbols of hate group affiliation. Graffiti identification is also an important tool.
When two young women from the Dominican Republic and their friend were attacked in Mast Park in San Diego County, the patrol officers knew that some kind of bias might be involved before they even took a full report from the victims because of the skinhead graffiti that had already been identified in this location. This knowledge and the victim\’s statement helped the detectives quickly identify and arrest the perpetrators.
Lesson 5: Work with Your Community to Reduce and Prevent Hate Crimes
Hate and bias crimes can tear communities apart. Preventive work to identify possible perpetrators can serve to make the community unfriendly to those who commit these types of crimes. Working closely with communities to build positive relationships will help make it easier for victims to report incidents when they happen. “Building strong and positive ties with communities can help alleviate some of this fear and lead to strong community-police relationships,” said Vest.