Reported hate crimes and incidents in Seattle have increased 230 percent since 2012, and the city is now focusing on a phased approach to improving accuracy in documenting and responding to future cases.

The city auditor’s office has created a report that analyzes the past five years of data regarding hate crimes and incidents in Seattle at the request of City Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

While the numbers show a 230 percent increase, it’s likely that’s a result of more people reporting hate crimes and bias incidents than were doing so in the past, said Melissa Alderson, assistant city auditor, during a Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee meeting.

There were 150 crimes with bias elements reported in 2017, and 107 cases of malicious harassment. Non-criminal bias incidents were at 116. This is a marked increase over the 2012 reports of 47 bias-related crimes, 31 cases of malicious harassment and 35 non-criminal bias incidents recorded in 2012. Bias-related crimes jumped from 89 in 2016 to 150 in 2017.

Race was the biggest factor in the 1,126 incidents reported between January 2012 and November 2017 — black people being the primary victims and then white people — followed by 722 incidents involving LGBTQ community members. Religion came in third at 286, followed by ethnicity at 118 incidents.

The auditor’s office published its Phase One report reviewing hate crime prevention, response and reporting back in September, and from that has come up with nine recommendations for consideration addressing reporting, training, using data and city and regional coordination.

Alderson said the Seattle Police Department agreed with the recommendations.

SPD is creating a training plan that includes an e-learning module on hate crimes, and is incorporating hate crime scenarios into its annual training to help officers know what to look for and how to help victims. SPD is also increasing its data analysis capacity to include hot spots where hate crimes are reported, time of day, and victimization and socio-demographic trends.

Alderson said SPD has also removed an option in police reports to identify a bias incident as unknown, which could have resulted in underreporting in years past. There are now new options for officers to mark down.

SPD will also be working with the Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) to coordinate reporting, and with Seattle Public Utilities in terms of hate graffiti data.

Alderson said SOCR last year launched an anti-bias campaign and a new hotline where people could report discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces, but a number of reports turned out to be hate crimes.

Mike Chen with SOCR said the department is now looking at how to support SPD when people call the hotline to report a hate crime because they are not comfortable calling 911 by creating protocols for referrals and creating an outreach plan.

SOCR took 46 such calls in 2017, and some were just voicemails without a name and just a little information about the offense, Chen said.

Bias Crimes Detective Beth Waring told councilmembers SPD’s Bias Crimes Dashboard is the best way for people to find detailed information regarding times, places and types of hate crimes committed around the city.

In the East Precinct, the largest targets were people within the LGBTQ community, followed by bias crimes based on race.

SPD Assistant Chief Marc Garth Green told the committee that hate crime reporting appears to have started increasing after Seattle launched its Safe Place program started in 2015. That program started in Capitol Hill to help targeted LGBTQ residents, before expanding across the city, and now it’s been replicated by municipalities nationwide.

Waring said she hears how people are often afraid to report hate crimes or bias incidents, particularly if they don’t speak English well or are undocumented immigrants afraid their status will be questioned.

“We don’t ask that question at SPD ever,” she said.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she believes part of the issue is that people can be wary of speaking with officers due to previous bad experiences.

“I’ve heard this from LGBTQ people, from the trans community especially, the black community obviously, from Latinos from immigrant people,” she said, adding that same sentiment was reported by sex-abuse survivors in the wake of the controversy with former mayor Ed Murray and his alleged victims.

Chen said the number-one barrier to reporting for SOCR is a lack of awareness, which means continuing outreach and education.

The U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service is expected to convene regional partners to discuss better ways to coordinate data collection and strategies, and Herbold will represent the city during that meeting.

A Phase Two audit will include analysis of cases, a socio-demographic analysis by the University of Washington and a review of prevention efforts. Seattle University will be studying the affect of hate crimes on indirect victims by convening student focus groups to determine the “ripple effect,” Alderson said.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien said, as the auditor’s office works on its final report, he’d like staff to look at how to better include community groups that may be better at collecting information because they’re more approachable.