Safety: How Police Investigate Hate Crimes

by Sergeant Julie Jorgensen
West Valley City Police Department

Hate crimes have become a hot topic the last couple of years with some high profile cases making the news recently.  The members of the LGBT Public Safety Liaison Committee want to dispel some myths and help you understand how police departments investigate hate crimes and what happens once the investigation is concluded.

I do not work for any of the police departments involved in the high profile cases and I have not reviewed the reports or interviewed the investigators. The information provided in this article is general information on how police departments would handle the investigation of a hate crime.

Let’s walk through what a hypothetical hate crime investigation would look like. I will be the victim for our case. I am walking down the street minding my own business when some guy comes up to me and calls me a “dyke”.  I flip him off and keep walking.  He follows me continuing to call me “dyke” and threatens, “I’m gonna kick your butt.”  He then comes up to me again, punches me in the face while calling me a “dyke” and telling me, “I’d better not catch you walking down this street again.”  I call the police.  I give them a description of the suspect, the license plate number from his jacked-up truck with the testicles hanging from the tow hitch, and direction of travel.

The police find him and pull him over, yay!  I am not hurt badly (whew) so the officer interviews me about what happened. I fill out a written statement and tell the officer I want to press charges. The officer interviews a witness that saw the incident. The suspect is also interviewed and tells the officer that he hates “dykes” and I had no business walking down “his street.”  The suspect is released due to jail overcrowding.

The officer writes a report that details what everyone told him and that he took a picture of a bruise on my face.  The report gets forwarded to a detective for review and then to the prosecutor’s office.  The prosecutor decides what charges are filed. I call the detective and the prosecutor’s office to keep up to date on what is going on with my case.  The officer, detective, and I think this should be a simple assault enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor.  Fortunately, the prosecutor sees things my way and a couple weeks later that is the criminal charge filed on my hypothetical attacker.  The prosecutor handles everything from that point on and the officer’s only remaining duty is to appear in court and testify at the trial.  The hypothetical bad guy cuts a deal, pleads guilty and is sentenced to a fine, a suspended jail sentence, and anger management classes.

The state laws on hate crimes are 76-3-203.3. Penalty for hate crimes — Civil rights violation and 76-3-203.4. Hate crimes —Aggravating factors. The first one is the enhancement law which is the one I used in my hypothetical case.  The second one is a guideline that judges or parole boards can use as an aggravating factor for sentencing. You can read the full text at Utah.gov. Click on the link to Utah Laws.

I realize that this hypothetical case is probably an oversimplification, but my intent with this is to provoke thoughtful discussion.

As always the LGBT Public Safety Liaison Committee is a resource for you.  We can be reached through the Pride Center or our page on Facebook.com.

Sergeant Julie Jorgensen

West Valley City Police Department

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