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Jose Borjon: The issue of hate crimes in Utah is still pertinent

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Surrounded by supporters, Gov. Gary R. Herbert signs into law the new hate crimes bill along with Senate President Stuart Adams, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, Rep. Lee Perry and Lt Gov. Spencer Cox, at the Utah State Capitol, Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

It is terribly sad, but not unexpected, the latest report on hate crimes by the FBI. It registers the highest number of crimes in a decade, as well as the highest number of hate-motivated killings since the agency began collecting data.

Of the 51 hate crime murders in 2019, 22 persons were killed in a senseless and vicious shooting that targeted Mexicans at a Walmart in the border city of El Paso, Texas.

What is also worrisome in the report is that a large number of police agencies appeared not to submit any hate crimes data to the Justice Department. Unfortunately, both at a national and local level, there is a hate crimes reporting gap. A huge disparity exists between those hate crimes reported to the FBI, and those that actually occur as described in the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Although, since 2019, Utah has a victim-targeting enhancement statute, law enforcement agencies in the state have not updated their protocols for dealing with hate crimes in their procedures manuals to reflect the new legislation.

Understanding the scope of the problem of hate is vital for enabling communities and law enforcement to prevent attacks based on bias and hate. Because they are vastly underreported, many communities cannot address a problem they don’t even know exists.

Underreporting may spread fear and distrust of the police and its community engagement approach. Also, reporting hate crimes can lead to their prevention by identifying those prone to these activities and sending a message that these crimes will not be ignored.

This could be addressed by including mandatory training through Peace Officer Standards and Training and by updating protocols to know how to act and investigate hate crimes, as well as developing training for police officers on how to treat immigrants who are victims of crime.

As we recall the hate crime that shook Salt Lake City when, in Nov. 27, 2018, a perpetrator attacked three men with a metal pole because he believed the men were Mexicans, let’s not forget that immigrants want safer cities for them and their families.

Many have left violence and crime from their home countries and feel welcomed in this country and state. This is why we need to work together to prevent attacks based on bias and hate.

Jose Borjon

Jose Borjon is the head consul of Mexico for Utah.
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