Activists seek better tracking of hate crimes

Activists seek better tracking of hate crimes

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As federal lawmakers are poised to enact the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, local activists are calling for uniform and consistent reporting of anti-LGBT hate crimes in Pennsylvania.

The federal bill, expected to be approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would make it possible for federal officials to prosecute hate crimes based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.

Hate crimes based on those categories have been reportable in Pennsylvania since 2002. But they haven’t been prosecuted in Pennsylvania since 2007, when a state Commonwealth Court ruling removed the categories from the state Ethnic Intimidation Statute.

The court ruling — which did not nullify the reporting requirements — cited procedural violations when the categories were added to the statute in 2002.

Community activists say accurate reporting of anti-LGBT hate crimes will help convince state legislators to reinstate the categories into the state Ethnic Intimidation Statute.

“The more accurate statistics we can gather, the better the chances of getting these crimes recognized for what they are,” said Lynn G. Zeitlin, executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania. “The more statistics we have, and the more reporting of these crimes, the more attention it will bring to the significance of the problem.”

Zeitlin said efforts to report hate crimes against women, sexual minorities and the disabled have been hampered due to the inability to prosecute these crimes.

Amy K. Rosenberry, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said her group hopes to send e-mail advisories to about 700 municipal police departments statewide, reiterating their reporting requirements.

“We’re considering possible options to make our membership aware of the matter,” Rosenberry said. “We can’t mandate anything to our members. But we’re all about getting out as much information as we possibly can.”

Each year, an average of 10-20 anti-lesbian, gay and bisexual hate crimes are reported to the Pennsylvania State Police — mostly from Philadelphia and its adjacent suburbs, according to the state police Web site.

No anti-transgender hate crime has been reported since the category was established, according to the state police Web site.

One anti-gender hate crime has been reported to the Pennsylvania State Police since 2002. That occurred this past August, when 12 women were shot — three fatally — by George Sodoni at a fitness center in Collier, Pa.

Stephen A. Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, called for more training of local police to recognize and report anti-LGBT hate crimes.

“If you don’t have consistent and accurate data, you have spotty underreporting, and it’s more difficult to defend the need for these laws to legislators who are looking for numbers to justify the reinstatement of the law,” Glassman said.

He encouraged the Pennsylvania State Police to hold training sessions for municipal police officers on the reporting requirements for all hate crimes, including anti-LGBT hate crimes.

Lt. Myra Taylor, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Police, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Capt. John R. Darby of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Conflict Prevention Resolution Unit, which investigates reported hate-crime incidents, said there’s always room for improvement within the department.

But Darby stopped short of calling for additional training on hate-crimes reporting. “I think the focus should be on providing the very best service that we can for every victim,” Darby said.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.

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