(Photo by tevenet via Pixabay)

San Jose police are launching a new program to combat hate crimes by partnering with local businesses to bolster protection for reporting victims.

The “Safe Place” program will post stickers in participating businesses to signify a zone where hate crimes can be reported to employees.

The employees will then act as a liaison to contact police and report the hate crime, while victims remain inside the business.
About 70 Starbucks and Wells Fargo locations across San Jose are the first partners for the program.

Like many other cities across the country, San Jose has seen an increase in hate crimes since 2017. In 2016, 19 hate crimes were reported to police. This increased to 45 in 2017 and slightly dropped to 37 in 2018, according to police Officer James Gonzalez.

Researchers have linked the rise to President Donald Trump’s election and presidency, predicated on divisive language. Gonzalez said that locally, the numbers could be attributed to an increase in reporting of hate crimes — something the new program hopes to further encourage.

“We’re trying to find these people who commit hateful acts and bring them to justice,” Gonzalez said, calling hate crimes “massively underreported.” “It should not be allowed to happen in the shadows,” he added.

He said police are not naive to the fact that community members may not trust officers, or hesitate to come forward to law enforcement, but the department hopes the program will show residents that officers take hate crimes seriously. He also emphasized San Jose police do not request immigration status at any point during the process.

Business that sign up for the decal, which has a rainbow print behind the words “Safe Space,” will have to sign an agreement indicating all employees will be trained accordingly. Gonzalez said police would not partner with businesses that do not agree to the conditions. Interested businesses can apply at www.sjpd.org/cop/safeplace/.

Wells Fargo and Starbucks already have corporate training to support the program because they were pilots when it was first established in Seattle about two years ago.

San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcie and Gonzalez made a visit to Seattle in May to learn more about bringing the program to San Jose. It was initially designed to increase reporting of hate crimes against people in the LGBTQ community. Police said the rainbow decal is now being used to signify “inclusion and intersectionality” for all communities.

Police also want to increase reporting on lesser hate crimes that have the potential to become more serious, with a goal of intervening before an incident escalates into a hate crime.

“The program is not just targeting victims — people who might consider spreading hate should take notice that this community has banded together and San Jose is not a safe haven for your bigotry,” Garcia said in a statement.