The Arlington Police Department announced a change to its official hate crime policy Thursday where it will now also document and track hate incidents in the city.
Hate incidents are situations involving hate speech or actions that do not necessarily rise to the level of a crime but have the same or a similar effect on their intended target, according to Chief Will Johnson.
As an example, Chief Johnson pointed to a situation in Arlington last year where a white nationalist organization leafletted its message to several homes in a neighborhood by placing propaganda in a plastic bag, along with a small rock to weigh it down, and tossing it into people’s yards.
“Best case scenario [in that incident] we had a littering charge. And that really did not resonate with the community,” Chief Johnson said. “But under this policy we would at least know that it happened. We would not lose the institutional knowledge that it happened over time, and we could help reconcile if we had other hate crimes or hate incidents that happened in proximity to that to review if there was an association or connection.”
The new policy will not have an impact on a recent situation along East Arkansas Lane, where someone spray painted multiple messages of hateful graffiti on both public and private property, according to Chief Johnson. That incident rises to the level of a hate crime, because the vandalism is already a crime.
Over time this new policy will give the police department, and the community, a far better picture of the true number of targeted, hateful acts within the city than what is currently known, according to the chief.
For instance, Chief Johnson noted national crime statistics from 2018, where fewer than 6,000 hate crimes were reported across the country. But in a separate Victimization Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Justice and Statistics, 250,000 people reported that they were victims of hate crimes. That wide discrepancy between official reports and people’s perception of crime can potentially be addressed by the implementation of policies like this one, according to Chief Johnson.
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In addition, Chief Johnson is hopeful that implementation of the new policy will convey to the citizens of Arlington that its police department wants to help.
“That we care about our people. That we care about their protection. We care about their safety and their neighborhood. We care that their kids are safe and free to walk to school, just like any other children,” Chief Johnson said. “We believe that this [policy] helps send that message, and we believe it helps set the culture in this community.”