In response to the increase in hate crimes reported locally and nationally, the Simi Valley Police Department hosted a public forum this week explaining how police investigate hate incidents.
The forum, which will be streamed virtually via Zoom Thursday night, is the third in a quarterly series of public discussions by the Simi Valley Police Department aimed at increasing transparency and public awareness of how law enforcement works.
The first forum dealt with the department’s recruitment and training processes, while the second contained a summary of the officers’ disciplinary protocol. Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone explained the department’s decision to make hate crimes the topic of the latest forum.
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“These are things that I thought were important because things have happened across the country and things that have happened locally,” said Livingstone.
High-profile hate crimes against Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific have been reported in the United States since the beginning of the year. Several hate crimes have occurred in Ventura County that year as well. Most recently, a 33-year-old Ventura man was suspected of stabbing a man in a racially motivated attack, and earlier this year a Thousand Oaks man was charged with two hate crimes related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Hate crimes” versus “hate incidents”
The forum began by distinguishing between a hate crime that can be prosecuted and a hate incident that is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
Under California law, a hate crime is when a crime is committed based on a perceived characteristic of the victim. Such traits can range from race and gender to sexual orientation and disability.
Criminal activity can include both violent crimes such as assault and property crimes such as vandalism, and the crimes can be attempted or threatened even though they are never committed. Police said any act aimed at causing physical injury, emotional suffering, intimidation or property damage could be considered a hate crime.
Cmdr. Steve Shorts, a Simi Police Public Information Officer, gave some examples of what is not considered a hate crime under First Amendment rights.
“Attribution, insults, disseminating hateful material in public places or displaying hateful material on private property. The constitution allows hate speech as long as it does not affect the civil rights of others,” said Shorts.
Despite the police’s inability to prosecute hate incidents, Livingstone and Shorts encouraged them to report them to the police for documentation purposes.
“We recognize that some of these incidents, even if they do not meet these thresholds, still need to be documented,” said Livingstone. “Often times this is not the first time someone has been involved in these incidents and it will help us build a better and stronger case.”
Simi Valley Hate Crime Statistics
The presentation also included data on the types of bias motivating hate crimes in the Simi Valley. The police have recorded 21 hate incidents since 2019. Although it was less than half the year, almost the most reports were in 2021. Three hate crimes and six hate incidents were reported.
The year with the highest number of hate crimes reported was 2020, with six hate crimes and four hate incidents being investigated by police. The remaining three reports include one hate crime and two hate incidents that were reported in 2019.
Livingstone admitted the data was limited to reported incidents and likely did not reflect all of the hate incidents in the city.
“We realize that sometimes these things go unreported, so we can only help and be effective with what we know,” said Livingstone.
Anti-black hatred incidents were most common in the Simi Valley. Eight cases have been reported since 2019. Anti-Semitic hate incidents are the second most common with three, followed by anti-Latino, anti-Islam, anti-multicultural and homophobic hate incidents. Each of these has been reported twice in recent years.
The last remaining data reflects a hate incident against Asian or Pacific islanders and an incident against an unspecified ethnicity or national origin.
Despite the single digit number of reported hate incidents in any given year, the impact of these crimes outweighs the small number, according to Livingstone.
“The low rate is great, but any of these crimes can have a devastating effect on the victim and the victim’s family,” he said.
Anyone who has been a victim of a hate incident or hate crime in the Simi Valley can report it to the Simi Valley Police Department at 805-583-6950.
Jeremy Childs is a breaking news and public safety reporter covering the night shift for the Ventura County star. He can be reached at 805-437-0208 or by email at jeremy.chil[email protected]. You can also find him on Twitter @Jeremy_Childs.
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