Police reports can play an essential role in prosecuting a hate crime.
In recent years, many jurisdictions have established a separate hate crime category, and the federal government also can investigate and prosecute hate crimes. These are criminal acts such as murder, arson, vandalism, and other crimes against people and property that are partly or wholly motivated by bias.
You should know that demonstrating hatred towards minorities, gays, Jews, persons with disabilities, or other groups is not sufficient: The bias must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt to be the motivation behind the crime.
Prosecuting a hate crime can be difficult. Hate in itself is not a crime, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects free speech even when it is offensive.
Another problem is that sometimes an alleged hate crime is actually a hoax. In 2009, for example, McCain supporter Ashley Todd falsely claimed that she’d been robbed by a Barack Obama supporter who cut a B on her right cheek. Investigators noted that the cuts were superficial, Todd refused medical attention, and – most telling – the “B” was backward, as if it had been done in front of a mirror.
If you suspect a hate crime, be sure to record details in your report that will be helpful to the prosecutor. Here are some possibilities:
- Relevant information about the offender’s and victim’s race, religion, ethnic/national origin, sexual orientation, or disability
- Suspect’s oral statements indicating bias
- Bias-related drawings, markings, symbols, or graffiti
- Objects (like white sheets with hoods or a burning cross) indicating bias
- Membership in a significant group (such as a white supremacy organization)
The officer at the scene will not be the person who decides how to prosecute the crime. But your observations and detailed reporting can be the deciding factors in a successful prosecution.
You can learn more about hate crimes by reading this article from the FBI website: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015/november/latest-hate-crime-statistics-available/latest-hate-crime-statistics-available.