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The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office has launched a new online tool showing data about bias crime cases.

COURTESY PHOTO - Multnomah County District Attorney Mike SchmidtAccessing information about the Multnomah County District Attorney Office's efforts to prosecute hate crimes, also known as "bias crimes," just became easier.

District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced the launch of a bias crime dashboard Tuesday, Feb. 8, delivering on a campaign promise to provide more transparency about bias crime cases through data on an ongoing basis.

In a statement, Schmidt said data collection and tracking is both a science and a reflection of his office's values.

"Our office denounces hate in all forms and works to advance equity within our role in the criminal justice system," he said. "Part of this work is educating the public of the prevalence of discrimination in our community. The Bias Crime data dashboard is intended to stand in stark opposition to acts of hate while providing a practical tool for policymakers, leaders, and the communities most impacted by bias crimes."

Bias-related incidents and hate crimes have been rising both in Oregon and nationally, with the FBI saying reports across the country hit their highest level in more than a decade last year.

Experts and advocacy groups say the actual occurrence of bias crimes is likely higher, because the groups most often victimized by such crimes are among the least likely to report incidents to law enforcement.

Schmidt's office presented the dashboard to the Portland Police Bureau's Muslim Advisory Council ahead of its public launch for feedback and engagement.

"Being targeted for religious beliefs, skin color, gender or ability is a daily reality for many in our community," a statement from the council read. "For the Muslim community, we often face judgment before people get to know us or talk to us. For a long time, these experiences have been invisible. Shining a light on bias crimes in Multnomah County not only validates the experiences of diverse communities, but it sends a message that hate will not be tolerated here."

The dashboard shows demographic and location data and the results of bias crime cases referred to the District Attorney's Office by law enforcement since July 2019, when Senate Bill 577 went into effect.

The bill was the first update to Oregon's bias crime laws in 20 years. It made a violent offense or the immediate threat of violence based on the perception of a person's membership of a protected class a felony. Oregon law also provides for less severe misdemeanor bias crimes related to property damage, "offensive physical contact" or causing alarm with the threat of violence.

The bill also added gender identity as a protected class. Other protected classes include race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.

From July 2019 to the end of last year, 116 bias crime cases were referred to the District Attorney's Office, the dashboard shows.

The highest number of referrals (18) occurred in the third quarter of 2020. The following quarter had the lowest number of referrals at six. Most recently, law enforcement referred 15 cases in both of the final two quarters of 2021.

Schmidt's office decided to move forward with prosecuting 103 of those referrals. Four cases are still pending review.

Most of the cases issued for prosecution — 64% — have not yet been resolved either by a guilty plea from a defendant, dismissal of the case by a judge or a verdict at trial, the data show.

The pandemic has created a substantial backlog of cases, the dashboard notes, with court closures and other pandemic-related impacts delaying cases that would have either gone to trial or otherwise been resolved.

Of the 37 resolved cases, 65% resulted in guilty pleas. Thirty-two percent were dismissed, with victim/witnesses-related problems or factual problems being listed as the top reasons for dismissal.

Only one case ended up going to trial, said Elisabeth Shepard, spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office. The jury found the defendant in that case "guilty except for insanity," the dashboard shows.

Nineteen of the resolved cases have resulted in sentences for defendants, with probation accounting for 84% of sentences and the remaining sentences resulting in prison sentences of one to two years, the data show. The length of most probation sentences was three years.

The District Attorney's Office chose not to move forward with prosecuting nine cases that were referred by law enforcement, the data show. Insufficient evidence was listed as the reason for seven of those rejected cases, the dashboard says. Additionally, one case was rejected because the case needed further investigation and another was rejected because a victim didn't participate, according to the dashboard.

Racial bias crimes accounted for the vast majority of the cases at 82%. The next two most common bias types were national origin at 25% and sexual orientation at 17%, the data show. Some cases involved more than one type of bias.

Bias crimes against Black people were the most common at 35%, the data show. White victims accounted for 28% of all victims. The dashboard lists "other/unknown" as the race for 21% of victims.

Of the defendants, 73% were white and 84% were male, the data show.

Far more bias-related incidents and hate crimes are reported than get referred to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution, according to data from the Oregon Department of Justice's Bias Response Hotline dashboard. The hotline was established in 2020 as part of SB 577.

The hotline received 365 reports of bias in Multnomah County in 2021, a sharp increase from the 271 reports in 2020, the hotline data show. About 300 of those reports were classified as bias-related incidents, in which criminal investigation or prosecution was either not possible or inappropriate, the dashboard says. About 250 were classified as hate crimes that could warrant investigation and/or prosecution.


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