Hate crimes occur all across the nation, including at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The UNL Police Department is helping to educate students on hate crimes.
UNLPD defines hate crimes as offenses in which the victim is intentionally selected because of either the actual or perceived race, gender, religion, national origins, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or disability of the victim, according to Sgt. Margot Nason.
John Backer, captain of patrol services, said hate crimes are any offense motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s bias or biases against the victim.
When a UNLPD officer documents an incident, the officer is advised to determine whether or not a hate crime may be involved, so it can encompass any type of offense, whether it is vandalism, assaults or harassment, according to Backer.
In the initial documentation of an incident, it may not be classified as a hate crime. However, if it starts appearing that any kind of bias was a motivation during the investigation, then UNLPD officers can change that classification within the report, according to Backer.
Nason said UNLPD officers handle hate crimes mostly in the same way as other offenses. Once officers become aware of the hate crime, they will strive to make sure that all the information concerning the crime and the offender is documented, recorded and investigated.
UNLPD’s procedure is more involved when handling hate crimes compared to other offenses because officers have to demonstrate that the act occurred, that there was intent to commit the act and that the offender had a bias, according to Backer.
As an example, Backer said if someone causes property damage, officers have to show that the offender intentionally and willfully caused that damage. However, with a hate crime, officers also have to show the offender had certain bias or biases.
“Whether it’s words that they said or items that they posted online before or after the event, we have to look for more evidence to demonstrate that the bias was a factor in that crime,” Backer said. “So, it’s more involved and it involves using more resources. It’s not impossible — it just takes more effort.”
Backer said UNLPD collects data from hate crimes that have been reported and not reported to them, like crimes reported to Title IX. From 2015 to 2020, there were a total of 22 hate crimes reported, according to Backer: five reports in 2015 and 2016, three in 2017, one in 2018, six in 2019 and two in 2020.
“There really isn’t any pattern of increase or decrease,” Backer said. “I can’t point to any significant factor or issue that prompted more in some years and very few in others.”
The vast majority of the hate crimes from 2015 through 2020 was intimidation, like verbal threats or verbal name-calling, according to Backer. Backer said, in his personal opinion, intimidation was the most frequently occurring type of hate crime because it is easy to commit.
“It doesn’t involve physical force,” Backer said. “It can be shouted at a distance, made over a phone call or posted on the internet. There are so many different ways that you can create that intimidation.”
Backer said if a student wishes to report a hate crime to UNLPD — either to have it documented or to proceed with a criminal investigation — they can use any of the reporting methods. Nason said students can call UNLPD, utilize TIPS, go to UNLPD’s office or email UNLPD.
Nason said UNLPD encourages any witness to report what they saw right away, so officers can handle a situation before it escalates or before they are unable to identify those involved.
For students who have experienced a hate crime, Backer said if they do not wish to reach out to police, Center for Advocacy, Response & Education advocates are available to help any victim of any crime that happens to a student, and Title IX can help students pursue an offender non-criminally, like with a no-contact order.
“There’s a lot of different resources that are available, depending on what the student is wishing to pursue,” Backer said.