In 2017, Austin had the most hate crimes in Texas. However, Austin is now behind cities of the same size in terms of hate crimes despite a small increase in such incidents in 2018, according to the FBI Hate Crime Statistics report.
Austin reported 19 total hate crimes in 2018, according to the report. Austin Police Department Lt. Jeff Greenwalt said Austin reported 17 in 2017. Of the 2018 hate crimes, 13 were motivated by race/ethnicity, four by sexual orientation, one by disability and one by gender identity.
“Crime, in general, fluctuates,” Greenwalt said. “It goes up and it goes down, and there’s dozens and dozens of contributing factors that can be associated with that. So it’s not anything that we can take away (or) any specific trend.”
UT reported no hate crimes on UT property for 2018, according to the 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety report.
Renee Lafair, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Austin, said it is difficult to tell whether hate crimes are actually increasing or decreasing by the number reported.
“On the one hand, there were likely more hate crimes, which is disturbing,” Lafair said. “But on the other hand, it was also an increase in agencies reporting hate crimes, which means there’s an increased awareness around identifying and reporting hate crimes and also indicates an increase in individuals reporting to the police, which is encouraging.”
In 2018, Dallas reported 31 total hate crimes, Fort Worth reported 24 and Houston reported 25. Greenwalt said he does not know about other cities’ reporting methods or why their numbers are different.
Greenwalt said in order for APD to prove a hate crime occurred, it is necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was selected because of bias or prejudice against a particular group. UTPD Sgt. Robert Land said a nationwide lack of reported hate crimes may be because it is hard to prove bias.
“In police investigations, one of the most difficult things to prove is why something happened,” Land said. “Even if we’re able to get all the facts together about something to figure out exactly how it happened, figuring out why that event happened is usually the most difficult piece.”
Greenwalt said in 2019, Austin has been trending low with only nine reported hate crimes so far. He said the department has been undertaking efforts to encourage reporting, including participating in the Safe Place initiative, which allows participating local businesses to protect LGBTQ victims of hate crimes and harassment in public.
“When we actually report the crimes and investigate them and hold people accountable, and they see in the news that people are being arrested for these types of crimes … we believe it has a deterrence effect on other people,” Greenwalt said. “We want people in the community to know that we take these crimes very seriously, and they should and can report them to us.”