Justice Department Lends a Hand to Police in Fight against Hate Crimes

Article excerpt

This article is one in a series about ways in which cities can improve racial and ethnic understanding.

Hate crimes fire bombings, cross burnings, beatings, even vandalism-deliver a double dose of damage. Each act harms not only the specific victim, but also sends a message to the community the victim represents: every neighbor or friend could be the next target because of his or her race or ethnicity, national origin or religion, disability or sexual orientation.

Whether the crime is the result of a teenage prank or a premeditated plan carefully executed by an organized hate group, the whole community feels threatened, alienated, helpless, and fearful. Even cities with healthy relations among diverse groups can experience tension if hate crimes are not publicly condemned by local leaders, if residents feel local police will not protect them, or if perpetrators are not prosecuted as criminals.

More than 10,000 hate crimes involving more than 11,000 victims were reported to the FBI by state and local officials in 1996. Experts agree that each year far more incidents occur than are reported or categorized as hate crimes.

Now local and state law enforcement officials can learn how to better identify, investigate, report, and prosecute hate crimes through a new model hate crime training curricula developed by a panel of state and federal law enforcement officials. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno will formally announce the four-part training program, part of her initiative on hate crime, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, in mid-October.

The Attorney General's initiative on hate crime, launched in February 1998, called for each U.S. attorney to form a local working group to develop enforcement strategies, share best practices, and educate the public about hate crime. Her aim is to change how the nation--not just law enforcement officials--looks at, talks about, and responds to hate crime.

Reno named Associate Deputy Attorney General James E. Castello to head the Department of Justice (DOJ) hate crimes working group that includes experts from several agencies within DOJ. This group, through several subcommittees, recommended changes in law, new ways to collect data, additional funding for local initiatives, and the development of a model training curricula for law enforcement.

The new training curricula are designed for four different audiences: patrol officers, investigators, managers and supervisors, and a multi-level audience of officers. Each course is approximately eight hours, and can be taught at a training academy or on-site at a police department.

Patrol officers' training addresses the initial response to a reported hate crime: securing the scene, preserving evidence, identifying witnesses, and responding to the victim. Training for investigators includes information about hate groups and activities, offender typology, and recognizing hate symbols.

Supervising officers and managers will explore their own department's culture and their role in changing it. They also will learn about developing policies and procedures to better address and track hate crimes, the impact of hate crimes on the community, working with community leaders and organizations, and the media.

The core course, for mixed audiences, covers the actions a law enforcement agency can take, proactively and reactively, to combat hate crime.

The courses were developed after reviewing existing training programs from several states and federal agencies, and have been field tested by approximately 300 law enforcement officials in several cities around the country including\ Birmingham, Macon, Austin, Houston Corpus Christi, and Los Angeles.

James Barber, chief of police in Byron, Gal, participated in the field test of the managers' course and was eager to hear more. Barber manages a 22-person department "in the heart of Georgia" about 90 miles south of Atlanta, where whites slightly outnumber Blacks. …