Reported hate crimes in Vermont continue to rise

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) New federal numbers are out showing the number of reported hate crimes in Vermont rose again last year, part of a sharp upward trend over the last four years.

In 2017, Vermont law enforcement agencies voluntarily reported 34 hate crimes. For the newest available data in 2018, the feds say that the number rose to 45.

"It's something we need to continue to work on," Vermont State Police Capt. Garry Scott said.

He says they have ramped up efforts to better understand the needs of those they serve and that troopers have met with community partners on a regular basis to hear and understand their concerns.

"Making sure we're really hearing lived experiences of Vermonters so we can what we need to do better and make sure they feel comfortable coming for us," Scott said.

Out of the 34 cases in 2018, the Burlington police reported seven hate crimes, almost more than double any other department that reported. Vermont State Police reported four, which is four more than they reported in 2017.

Vermonters reaching out to police may be one of the reasons the number of reported hate crimes has risen steadily in recent years and VSP officials say they hope all victims of bias incidents will call and report so that they can be a part of a solution.

"It's not tolerated. It's not something Vermonters expect to see or want to be a part of," Scott said.

In 2018, 30 of the 45 reported hate crimes voluntarily reported to the FBI by 24 police agencies were race-related. Eleven were based on religion, three on sexual orientation and one based on a disability.

"I know of individuals who have been targets of hate crime in the area," said Pastor Arnold Thomas with the Good Shepard Lutheran Church in Jericho.

He says he's concerned about rural Vermonters of color who may not trust smaller police departments.

"I think the importance is really getting those departments to step up to the plate and take more seriously these concerns," Thomas said.

And although he believes the likelihood is low, Thomas says the Good Shepard Lutheran Church has gone through training with state police to prepare for a hate-motivated attack.

"It's not something that we as a church feel comfortable doing," he said. "But still, it's always good to be prepared."

Scott says he expects the number of reported hate crimes to rise next year too. Police need to balance what is free speech and what is harmful to the community but knows overall law enforcement can do better to help. It's an attitude and culture shift change that we want to make sure our members are conveying to the victim or community," he said.

Vermont's newly appointed and first racial equity Director says its not only victims that should be reaching out to police to report an issue.

"Don't look away, don't think that this is someone else's problem because truth be told everyone will play a role in this, even if your role is bystander, and so there's something we can do at the individual level, at the community level and at the government level to stem this tide," said Xusana Davis, Vermont's racial equity executive director.