Understanding Hate Crimes

The Definition of Hate Crimes

Although the term, "Hate Crimes", is the most frequently used term throughout the U.S., the true definitions may differ depending on the jurisdiction and/or state you reside in.  In the State of Washington, the correct term is Malicious Harassment.

In Bremerton, we want to know about and document the following types of bias-related categories in police reports: 

Malicious Harassment encompasses verbal and/or written threats of assault, robbery, property damage, or actual assaults, property damage, robbery, etc., primarily directed at the victim because of the suspect's perception of the victim's race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, religion, or any other factors listed by law which is the primary reason for the threats, assaults and/or property damage and a report should be made. Call 911 immediately and advise the dispatcher of any injuries you have, and a description and direction of travel of the suspect(s). If safe to do so, remain at the scene until police arrive or notify the 911 operator of your new location. 

Crimes with Bias Elements occurs when the victim is threatened, assaulted, robbed, has their property damaged, etc., by a suspect when, during the commission of the crime, any comments are made directly and/or indirectly that relate to the suspect's perception of the victim's race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, religion, etc. that appears to be a secondary motivation for the crime. The victim should follow the same protocol in calling 911 and reporting the incident. 

Bias Incidents are non-criminal situations that do not fall within the above listed categories, where a subject uses/directs offensive words at an individual and/or group during constitutionally protected free speech that the recipient(s) considers offensive AND does not accompany those words with direct threats and/or actions.   

You do not need to know what category your incident belongs in to report a hate crime. Call 911 if you are the victim of a crime, or would like to report your incident to the police. Or you can use our online form to remain anonymous. 

When is an incident considered a hate crime?

Protected statuses under Washington State Law

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Ancestry
  • National Origin
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Mental, physical or sensory handicap

A person is guilty of a hate crime if they commits any of the following acts because of the victims protected status:  

  • Causes physical injury to the victim or another person
  • Causes physical damage to or destroys the property of the victim or another person
  • Makes threats that causes a person or group to have reasonable fear of harm to their person or property

Even if the victim does not belong to a certain protected status, if they were selected because they were perceived to be of that status, this is still considered a hate crime. 

When is an incident not considered a hate crime?

  • If the suspect is in the process of committing another crime, and calls the victim a derogatory name, it does not automatically mean it is malicious harassment.
  • If the suspect uses insulting or derogatory words but does not place another person in a reasonable fear of harm to their person or property, this is not malicious harassment.
  • If the incident was a crime, but it was not believed to be motivated by your status, the police will still follow up on the crime to the full extent of the law. It just won't be charged as a Malicious Harassment crime.
  • If the incident is not found to be a crime - either Malicious Harassment or any other type of crime - there is often not much enforcement action police can take. BPD encourages the reporting every incident of this type.

If it is found that there is no directly enforceable action that can be taken by police, this does not mean what happened to you wasn't wrong. You sometimes have the option of bringing a civil cause of action against the suspect, which carries a lower burden of proof than criminal enforcement. The suspect may be liable to the victim for actual damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorney's fees and other incurred costs. You will need to contact a private attorney to start a civil action.

SPD LGBTQ Liasion Officer Explaining SPD SAFE PLACE