Seattle could improve police training, analysis of hate crimes, auditor says

Police may have underreported hate crimes and incidents in recent years, according to city auditors, and could improve training and data analysis.

Seattle police could improve their training and data analysis related to hate crimes, according to City Auditor David Jones, and recently upgraded their reporting on such offenses.

Police may have underreported hate crimes and incidents because of the way they’ve categorized some offenses, Jones said in a report released Wednesday. He acknowledged that police fixed that problem in July.

Reports on hate crimes and incidents increased 39 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2016, from 128 to 178 crimes and incidents, according to the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

The groups most commonly the targets of bias in the first half of this year were blacks, gays and lesbians and Jews, according to police.

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Auditors found that about 17,000 offense reports annually between 2012 and 2016 had indicated “unknown” in the bias category. “This may have resulted in SPD undercounting hate crimes,” auditors wrote.

The vast majority of reports by officers either indicated “no bias” or specified the type of bias from a list of categories. The FBI recommends that agencies update the bias category as investigations progress so that hate-crime data should have few, if any cases coded as “unknown.”

In a written response to the audit, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the unknown category was removed in July and officers were directed to choose the most applicable category or ”no bias.”

Seattle reports more bias-related incidents than any similarly sized city except Boston, O’Toole said.

The number of reported hate crimes and incidents in Seattle has increased every year since 2012, Detective Elizabeth Wareing — who coordinates the department’s response to bias crimes — told City Council members this past week.

Wareing said she didn’t know if that annual rise reflected an increase in crimes and incidents, or more diligent reporting, particularly by witnesses. “It’s something I’m constantly looking at,” she said, adding it would be “foolish to say the election of 2016 hasn’t had an effect on our city.”

State law defines malicious harassment — a felony commonly referred to as a “hate crime” — as intentionally injuring, damaging property or…

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