Santa Clara County officials want to create a department focused on hate crimes, but local leaders have questions about how it would work.

The Board of Supervisors recently directed county workers to come up with a plan for implementing dozens of recommendations for addressing hate crimes. This would include developing a reporting system for hate-based incidents and making data about these incidents more transparent to the public. The board also asked for more details about the creation of a new county office that would receive and track reports of hate incidents and crimes.

A couple of supervisors said they were reluctant to green light a new office, which would require money and personnel. Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who co-introduced the referral with Supervisor Otto Lee, said she has no preference on whether a new office is created, as long as some department is receiving reports and tracking incidents.

“We don’t really have a tool for people to do that besides 911,” Chavez told San Jose Spotlight. “Not everybody feels comfortable calling in a hate crime like that.”

Chavez said this is a problem because it leaves the county with incomplete data for tracking criminal acts motivated by race, gender, religion or other characteristics. Available data suggests these incidents are occurring with greater frequency in San Jose. The San Jose Police Department reported 116 hate crimes in 2021, compared to 89 in 2020 and 33 in 2019. This is part of a broader pattern in California where the overall number of hate crimes increased from 1,015 in 2019 to 1,330 in 2020.

There are myriad factors potentially driving this trend. A notable one is hateful rhetoric about Asians relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, which appears to be causing some anti-Asian violence in the Bay Area. Lee said it’s important for the county to invest resources in combating hate crimes in light of the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York that targeted Black people, and the 2021 shooting in Atlanta, Georgia where a gunman attacked Asian masseuses.

“Hate is not something that should be tolerated,” Lee told San Jose Spotlight, adding county leaders should also learn more about how online activity can fuel hate crimes. “We need to nip this in the bud.”

Not another office

The recommendations stem from the San Jose State University Research Foundation, which forwarded them to the county’s Hate Prevention & Inclusion Task Force. The county formed the task force in 2019 after the deadly Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting.

Sparky Harlan, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center, told San Jose Spotlight it’s critical to focus on hate crimes, but she’s not convinced the county needs a new office to accomplish this mission. She’s also opposed to adding this mandate to a law enforcement agency, such as the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

“The community really doesn’t want to talk to the DA, public employees or the police,” Harlan said. “They want to be able to talk to people they trust.”

Harlan said it may be appropriate to place this role within a division of the County Executive’s Office, such as the Division of Equity and Social Justice, noting this could save the government some money.

Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance and a member of the county’s Hate Prevention & Inclusion Task Force, agreed it makes more sense to place hate crime prevention under the purview of an existing department.

Konda emphasized the county needs an institution to keep track of hate crimes that can also work with community organizations to develop strategies for curbing the problem. He said while some people are comfortable reporting hate incidents, others are reluctant to come forward, although this is becoming easier through self-reporting websites such as Stop AAPI Hate.

“The numbers are shocking to me,” Konda told San Jose Spotlight, referring to the reports he’s seen about hate crimes. “There’s all kinds of hate-related incidents that are happening.”

Bob Nunez, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, said he believes the county is taking hate crimes seriously, and he appreciates its efforts. His main concern is how county officials plan to coordinate their efforts with residents.

“How’s the input from the community being brought in—are we going to be asked to be on five or six different advisory committees to different departments?” Nuñez told San Jose Spotlight, adding he’d also like to see how the county’s plans fit within existing goals around diversity and immigration.

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