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R.I. Attorney General, U. sign new agreement to clarify hate crime reporting procedures

Attorney General office finds Brown had been underreporting hate crimes to state police

The University signed an agreement  with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha in February to update its hate crime reporting process. 

The agreement is a response to a review from Neronha’s office that found the University had failed to report alleged hate crimes to the Rhode Island State Police, according to a press release from the attorney general.

All police departments, including Brown’s Department of Public Safety, are required to report alleged hate crimes to the RISP. As a university that receives federal funds, the University must also report alleged hate crimes to the U.S. Department of Education under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

The Attorney General’s office found that between 2016 and 2018, DPS reported 22 hate crimes to the U.S. Department of Education and only two to the state, according to the press release. One of two main reasons for this discrepancy is that the state and federal governments have different classifications for what constitutes a hate crime, according to University Spokesperson Brian Clark. 

Clark added that Neronha’s office believes that some of the 22 federally-reported incidents would also be classified as hate crimes under Rhode Island law, meaning that they should have been reported to the state as well. 

The entity responsible for reporting hate crimes differs between state and federal levels, according to Clark. He said the federal Clery Act requires that colleges and universities report all hate crime incidents that occur adjacent to their campus, even if they fall under the jurisdiction of a non-campus police department such as the Providence Police Department. But on the state level, PPD is responsible for reporting those incidents, Clark said.

Because of these differences in standards, Clark said that a comparison between the number of hate crimes reported to the state and to the federal government is “not applicable.”

Details about the incidents in question are not public information, according to the Civil Division Chief for the Attorney General Miriam Weizenbaum.

The new agreement requires the University to clarify its hate crime reporting procedures, document “all data and records” necessary for a compliance review and annually report to the Attorney General on actions it has taken to improve its reporting practices, its plans for further improvement and the total number of alleged hate crimes.

The University also agreed to meet with the PPD to coordinate hate crime reporting responsibilities for areas adjacent to the University’s campus. Clark said that this meeting has already taken place and provided DPS with an opportunity to “further enhance our processes for making timely reports.” He said the meeting affirmed that “DPS will continue to provide information to the state on incidents reported on campus, while PPD will continue to be responsible for reporting to the state incidents that occur within their jurisdiction.”

“We know that hate crimes are chronically underreported for a variety of reasons,” Neronha wrote in the press release. “Our Office is committed to working with police departments around Rhode Island to better identify hate crimes and properly report them.”

In the press release, the Attorney General’s Office made a point to acknowledge that “Brown values student safety and condemns bigotry and bias, and has always strived to comply fully with federal and state hate crime reporting requirements.”

Clark added that DPS and University leaders “recognize and appreciate the importance of reporting hate crimes” as “essential work of preventing and responding to criminal offenses motivated by bias.”

Weizenbaum said that Neronha’s office began looking into the University’s hate crime reporting in 2019 because there had “been some controversy as to whether some incidents on the campus are being handled with the seriousness that they deserve,” and because the federal mandate for Brown on hate crime reporting could serve as a “basis for comparison” with state reporting.

Weizenbaum hopes that an increase in hate crime reporting from the University will shed light on the under-reporting of hate crimes at other colleges and communities in Rhode Island.

“We need law enforcement to understand that they have to pay particular attention to people who have been historically the subject of discrimination,” Weizenbaum said. “We're already at risk of essentially taking away their rights as citizens by marginalizing them.”



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