Denver hosts first hate crime prevention forum

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DENVER -- Community leaders and residents gathered Tuesday for a first-of-its-kind city-hosted forum exploring ways to combat hate crime in Denver.

The biggest obstacle facing police and prosecutors is the lack of motivation victims have to report hate crimes, according to officials.

The forum, held at First Baptist Church in the Captiol Hill neighborhood, served as an opportunity for community leaders and nonprofits to strive for a better understanding as to why people do not report hate crimes.

Organizers said they are working to help victims become more comfortable while encouraging law enforcement to become more approachable.

Speakers drew attention to federal statistics showing a rise in hate crimes over the past year.

For every hate crime that is reported, many more are not, according to the Denver-based Matthew Shepard Foundation.

“The foundation wants to understand what motivates people psychologically either to report or to not report,” foundation executive director Jason Marsden said.

The foundation is conducting an anonymous online survey to find ways to better support victims and improve police relations.

Some police relations work is already underway within Colorado’s largest police department.

The Denver Police Department recently installed an LGBTQ community liaison officer and continues to create a partnership with businesses to provide Safe Place reporting sites for victims to seek help.

The work of Denver police officers is supported by a team of specially trained hate crime prosecutors, according to Denver’s district attorney.

“Now we have attorneys that work very closely with the Denver Police Department who also have a hate/biased team of detectives,” District Attorney Beth McCann said.

Over the past year, swastika vandalism has been seen throughout the greater Denver area.

Jewish people are just one of the many targets of this type of crime motivated by race, national origin, disability, gender, religion, skin color and/or sexual orientation/identity.

“Federal crime victimology studies have indicated there may be a quarter of a million people a year who are victims to these types of incidents,” Marsden said.

Forum organizers said they hope events Tuesday and in the future will not just start a conversation but also have a real impact through education and empowering people to report hate.

A new city ordinance in Denver allows municipal judges to hand down longer sentences for people accused of municipal hate crimes.