Local hate crimes continue rising in 2021; FBI urges reporting

SEATTLE — Hate crimes in the Seattle area continue to soar. The FBI, Seattle police, and prosecutors all gathered Wednesday to address the problem.

They said of the hate crimes in King County happen in Seattle.

“Hate crimes in Seattle are on the rise,” said Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz.

“It is impossible to deny hate crimes have been increasing in King County, especially in the Seattle area. That’s something we’re very concerned about,” said David Bannick, deputy prosecuting attorney with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Data from the Seattle Police Department bias crimes dashboard shows in 2012 that there were just over 100 bias crimes a year. Last year, there were nearly 800 cases.

Detective Beth Wareing with the SPD said 2021 is on track to break that record. Wareing works full-time on hate crimes and, according to Diaz, is the only full-time law enforcement personnel in the Pacific Northwest solving hate crimes.

She said reports of anti-Asian hate crimes are continuing to increase in 2021. Anti-Asian bias/hate crimes more than doubled in 2020 (49 incidents) compared to 2019 (21 incidents), according to the SPD data dashboard.

“For first quarter, we are continuing to rise with incidents of anti-Asian hate. What I will say it’s still a topic we’re talking a lot about, and there’s always a relationship there,” Wareing said, indicating that that reporting may be going up too.

On Wednesday, the FBI Seattle office, U.S. attorney’s office, Seattle police, and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office met at FBI Seattle to provide the update on hate crimes and share how they all work together to prosecute hate crimes.

“We collaborate and present a united front against hate crimes in the community,” said Ryan W. Bruett, FBI supervisory special agent.

Despite the increase, law enforcement agencies still believe hate crimes are severely underreported and urge people to change that.

“We can’t prosecute a case, we can’t investigate a case unless we know about it,” said Rebecca Cohen, assistant U.S. attorney.

SPD also encourages reporting of hate speech. In fact, Wareing  said non-criminal hate was up more than 90% in 2020.

“For example, you have woman who is wearing a hijab, and she has her children with her, and she’s in a grocery store parking lot. A truck screeches up and says, ‘Hey, get out of our country. You’re not welcome here!’ And screeches away. Is it a crime? It’s not a crime. Does it profoundly affect that person and her children? Absolutely,” Wareing said.

Most departments don’t track that type of bias, but SPD does. It’s work that the FBI stated makes a huge difference for building a case — if that person ends up escalating and committing a hate crime later.

“We’re trying to prove the bias, the reason they did that (crime). And if they have a history per SPD’s records (cut out middle) that can help prove the bias,” Bruett said.

Prosecutors said immigrant communities are often most hesitant to report hate crimes because there is fear of consequences. The FBI emphasized that people do not need to worry about that and said its primary concern is bringing hate crime offenders to justice.