New Hampshire releases hate crimes reporting guidelines

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire released a set of guidelines Tuesday to help law enforcement agencies better handle hate crimes in the wake of recent debate about racism in the mostly white state.

The protocols from the attorney general’s office call on departments to designate one staffer responsible for coordinating the handling of an alleged bias or hate crime. That person will also work with the attorney general’s civil rights unit and the relevant county attorney to determine how to respond to such crimes. Hate crimes are also supposed to be reported to the FBI each year.

“There is a need to provide to provide standardized guidelines and focused training to better prepare members of law enforcement to identify and appropriately respond to incidents where potential bias or hate-motivated crimes have occurred,” Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said. “These protocols strive to ensure that New Hampshire remains a welcoming and safe place for all.”

The protocols come almost two years after the attorney general’s office created a civil rights unit, which among other things investigates violence or discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

The unit was created in the wake of the near-hanging in 2017 of an 8-year-old biracial child. The state attorney general’s office concluded this year that there wasn’t enough evidence to show the episode was racially motivated, but the near-hanging grabbed national headlines and forced the state to examine how it handled alleged hate crimes.

The attorney general’s report said the boy put a rope around his neck, copying the actions of two other teens who had jumped from the table and landed uninjured. When the youngest boy tried it, one of the other kids pushed his legs, causing him to fall.

There have been other accusations of racism or insensitivity in the past few years, including complaints about white students wearing ponchos and sombreros at University of New Hampshire’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Also, an inn manager was fined after she was accused of shoving a couple she thought were Muslim.

“This is a positive step forward in creating accountability and improving reporting for bias incidents, hate crimes, and civil rights violations,” Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said in a statement. “We urge the state to ensure that all local law enforcement are properly trained and held accountable in implementing these new protocols.”

Center Harbor Police Chief Mark Chase, who was involved in drawing up the protocols when he was president of the New Hampshire Association of Police of Chiefs, said the guidelines demonstrate that hate crimes will be investigated properly anywhere in the state and that victims will be treated fairly.

“New Hampshire is seeing a small amount of these cases, but they are increasing,” Chase said. “When you have these cases, it is critical in how things are handled. When you don’t deal with it every day, policies become even more important.”

According to the attorney general’s office, state and local police departments in 2017 reported 13 hate crimes. No jurisdiction reported more than one hate crime, and 147 cities and towns reported none. But 48 departments failed to submit any information at all to the FBI related to hate crimes.

Lisa Jones, a senior faculty member at University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, is working on a national survey of law enforcement agencies looking at hate crime case investigations and cases.

There are often “huge variations” in how states and local law enforcement handle hate and bias incidents, she said. Some large cities report hundreds of hate crimes, she said, while others report zero.

“These kinds of discrepancies are concerning and suggest that protocols like this one really can make a difference in improving recognition of these cases,” she said in an email interview.