AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Confusion regarding reporting practices” was listed as a key concern presented to the city manager’s office regarding hate crimes in Austin, according to a recent memo.

As a result of a string of antisemitic, racist and homophobic incidents in Oct. 2021, Austin City Council passed a resolution aimed at addressing hate crimes.

City council has approved funding for an anti-hate education campaign, which a spokesperson said has the below two overarching goals.

  • A community well informed of tools and resources to report hate crime and incident
  • Fostering a community culture grounded in inclusivity and standing against hate in all forms

Mayor Pro-Tem Alison Alter’s office, which has backed the campaign, is pleased with the progress made so far, but also wants the community to have more reassurance that something will be done with the hate-crime reports made.

“It’s so important that everyone keeps and eye out for these incidents,” said Mariette Hummel, co-founder of ATXKind. “Because if we don’t report it, people can’t be prosecuted, we can’t track it, we don’t know where it’s happening, and we don’t know how much is happening.”

According to a recent city memo, staff has started work on streamlining and clarifying the reporting process in several ways.

As a result of the original resolution, 311 has updated its operators’ script to include the question “Do you believe the accused selected you based on their bias or prejudice against your race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference?”

APD hopes to launch a new reporting system in spring 2023. For now, 311 has added a line to its auto-generated email responses for APD non-emergency requests: “If a report was created, the Austin Police Department will provide the case number.”

City staff has also changed some of the language on iReportAustin.com to help better guide people through the process of reporting hate crimes. Here are some examples:

  • “If you believe you were the victim of an incident but are unsure if it rises to the level of criminal conduct, please proceed with submitting a police report.”
  • “If you believe you were a victim of a hate crime, click Submit a Report, then click the offense that best applies. During the sequence of questions, you will be asked if you believe you were a victim of a hate crime and why you feel you were.”

Additionally, staff made the below edit to a line that “may have unintentionally deterred people from filing a report”:

  • Previous language: “Filing a false police report is a crime!”
  • Updated language: “Intentionally filing a false police report for personal gain or harassment o another can lead to prosecution.”

APD currently has an email address dedicated to hate crimes: APDHateCrimes@austintexas.gov. The city said the account “has been advertised by some community groups as a way to file a report but is now primarily intended as an option for people to ask questions, learn more about
the process, and get victim services assistance.”

That email account is only checked during regular business hours, and City staff are working to update the auto-reply message with information on how to report a hate crime and how to access victim services resources.