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Legislation hopes to better measure hate crimes as state grapples with a rise

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There has been an increase in hate crimes in Colorado, according to data presented Tuesday as state lawmakers heard a measure seeking to track bias-motivated incidents.

Colorado experienced a more than 12 percent increase in hate crimes in 2015 compared to 2014. There were 107 reported incidents in 2015, compared to 95 in 2014, according to statistics provided by the Anti-Defamation League.

The group, however, supported legislation heard in a House committee on Tuesday that aims at doing a better job of tracking hate-crime data in Colorado.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, originally required the Department of Public Safety to review hate-crime reports from law enforcement and determine whether each agency is accurately reporting incidents. The verified information would have been reported to the legislature.

But an amendment to the bill essentially gutted the legislation in an effort to lower costs as lawmakers grapple with a budget crunch. Hate-crime data would still be reported to lawmakers, but the data would not be verified by the Department of Public Safety.

The bill’s original “fiscal note” said it would not require more money from the state budget and require only an increase in workload for existing state employees, but an updated analysis Tuesday put its cost at $200,000 a year.

House Bill 1138, which passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously with the amendment, is considered a “modest” step, as it still requires law enforcement to report hate-crime data, something agencies are not currently required to do. But the bill does not create penalties for agencies that fail to report.

“What we expect is accuracy in reporting from law enforcement. We expect law enforcement to do its duty in recognizing hate crimes,” Salazar said. “That’s the original intent of the bill.”

After the hearing, Salazar added that he would work with law enforcement agencies and the ADL to encourage accuracy in reporting.

“We’re going to get reports from the Department of Public Safety into the General Assembly, finally, and now we can start seeing where there may be problems – if there’s an increase in one area as opposed to another – and then we can take those next steps,” Salazar said.

The bill must still pass the full Democratic-controlled House before heading to the Republican-controlled Senate for approval.

The effort comes as reports proliferate of an increase in hate crimes across the nation, led by a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks on immigrants and Muslims.

Vandalism has been reported at Jewish cemeteries across the country. And a high-profile case in Kansas caught the nation’s attention after a man allegedly opened fire on two Indians just after shouting, “Get out of my country.”

Some of the conversation revolves around whether the apparent spike in bias-motivated incidents is connected to President Trump’s rise to power.

In Denver in November 2016, a transgender woman found her vehicle spray-painted with hate messages and swastikas. Tagged on the hood of the car was “Trump.”

Salazar highlighted an incident in Denver in July 2015 when a man attacked a black woman, calling her a racial slur before punching the woman in the face. The victim needed three stitches to close a cut on her lip.

The ADL said in the United States, one hate crime occurs every 90 minutes. There were 5,850 documented hate crimes nationally in 2015, according to the FBI. That represents a 7 percent increase over 2014.

Civil rights advocates are worried that fewer law enforcement agencies are reporting hate crimes to the FBI. In Colorado, 234 of the state’s 246 agencies reported statistics to the bureau, according to the ADL.

Elisa Moran, an ADL Mountain States board member, said there are gaps in reporting in Colorado over the last five years. While law enforcement agencies reporting data had been consistently rising, there was a decline in the number of agencies participating in 2015, Moran said.

In 2015 and 2014, there were there communities with populations over 100,000 in Colorado – Lakewood, Thornton and Westminster – which reported zero hate crimes, even though the agencies reported multiple bias-motivated incidents in previous years. Moran said Boulder failed to report a hate crime that the ADL actively worked on.

“We know that it’s highly unlikely that a city with a population over 100,000 had zero instances of hate crimes,” Moran said. “This House bill can help us understand whether there were truly no reported instances in these communities, or whether there were hate crimes that went unreported.”

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