Hate crimes may be on the rise, but haven’t matched peak in 2012

While San Francisco has seen a recent increase in hate crimes, this year’s spike has yet to rise above a peak reached four years ago, which may call into question just how accurate the data is.

So far this year, hate crimes in The City have seen a 10 percent year-over-year rise, according to the San Francisco Police Department. Acting police Chief Toney Chaplin has blamed the increase on the environment of Donald Trump’s campaign and election as U.S. president because of what Chaplin called his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“Recent new reports indicate prejudice-based crimes are occurring in San Francisco and the Bay Area as well,” Chaplin said last week at a news conference about stepping up efforts to combat hate crimes.

According to the FBI, a hate crime is any “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Still, while police statistics show a minor rise this year compared to last, those numbers remain below previous peaks in recent years.

For instance, there were 41 reported hate crimes in 2012 — more than any year since.

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Despite the disparity between these numbers, civil rights groups say neither capture accurately the extent of hate crimes in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

“The hard part is that a lot of people still don’t come forward,” said Zahar Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Nonetheless, Billoo said reports to CAIR have increased.

“San Francisco official data aside, we have gotten more complaints in the Bay Area than we normally would,” she said, noting post-election reports.

But even the group’s data may not account for every case.

CAIR only publishes what can be verified, and Billoo did not explain their system of verification. But CAIR’s data does not include reports that couldn’t be verified or the cases that were not reported at all.

“There’s a lot of fear of what’s to come,” she said, pointing out that much of that concern is what we’re dealing with now is only a “precursor of what’s to come.”

Another area of untracked acts of hate is legal hate speech, which can help government and others see trends and locate possible targets of hate.

For instance, when the Anti-Defamation League records anti-Semitic incidents — which were the highest nationally in 2015, in terms of religious hate crimes — its data includes legal and illegal acts of hate, said Seth Brysk, ADL’s regional director.

“For us, it’s important to be able to track expressions of hate, whether or not they are part of criminal activity,” Brysk said, noting that such tracking helps the group understand the broader context. Hate crimes don’t simply happen; there has to be lead up, he said.

“The Holocaust didn’t start with bullets,” he added. “It started with words.”

Numbers aside, the SFPD has said it plans to keep its eyes open and to put bodies on the streets in areas that may be targeted. This will include efforts to increase plainclothes officers in areas that may be targeted with hate crimes.

“Starting today, we’re going to get out among the people and be proactive,” Chaplin said.

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Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

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