Police department reports increase in bias crime

After going six years without a bias crime report, Laramie Police Department Police Chief Dale Stalder reported to the Laramie City Council on Tuesday the department filed two bias crime reports in 2017.

During the council’s regular meeting, Stalder submitted the department’s report to the councilors and explained the department follows the FBI’s definition for bias crimes, which states a hate crime, or bias crime, as “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

The LPD’s report identified two incidents in 2017 fitting the criteria for a bias crime.

“Both incidents involved graffiti and no suspects were identified,” the report states. “One incident

involved anti-religious statements written on a wall and mirror in a local church, and the other involved writings on a sidewalk in front of a Laramie business that were derogatory towards people’s sexual orientation.”

While the LPD has only reported nine bias crimes since 2004, the last time the department reported two in a single year was 2006, with two being the most reported in a single year, according to data from the Laramie/Albany County Records & Communications Records Unit.

For some Laramie residents, however, the report was not inclusive of the bias crimes committed in 2017.

“I have concerns about Laramie,” Laramie resident and Wyoming Equality board member Robert West said. “Predominantly, this comes in the form of the protections and support and safety our marginalized communities face.”

West said members of the LGBT community can experience backlash from friends and family members when they “come out,” but when identified as LGBT in public, the response can sometimes be worse.

“For instance, we have these two crimes documented, but in the past year, I know of multiple instances that are not before you right now,” he said. “One: A gay man was choked in a bar, because he decided to talk about his sexual orientation and somebody did not like that. Two: We had a blossoming drag performance here in our community, and they like to go out and have a drink after their performance. Many times, they were verbally assaulted and physically assaulted.”

To combat the unreported instances of violence against members of the LGBT community, West offered the council a series of recommendations.

“The first thing I recommend to the council is that there is an immediate response from this council and this city as a whole acknowledging these two incidents have happened and that states these are not part of our values as a community,” he said.

West also recommended the city review the possibility of increasing education efforts regarding Laramie’s nondiscrimination policy, install a method for residents to report bias crimes and make bias crime reporting available online.

Councilor Phoebe Stoner said she was in support of the council taking action as quickly as possible, which could be in the form of a resolution the city might craft with West’s help.

Mayor Andi Summerville also suggested the council consider setting a special meeting to discuss ways to make Laramie a safer place for “marginalized communities.”

Stalder’s submittal of the bias crime report was approved 8-0, with Councilor Dave Paulekas absent.

Because of increased public interest on a number of agenda items, the council voted 8-0 to suspend the rules and postpone the final reading of a snow removal ordinance until a special meeting Feb. 13.

Vice Mayor Jayne Pearce also made a motion to amend the agenda, adding an adjournment to executive session to discuss “litigation and confidential matters.” The motion was approved 8-0, with Paulekas absent.

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