Law enforcement and faith leaders eye a proactive approach to hate crimes
Hate crimes in Utah have increased in the last two years. For religious hate crimes, the rise is even steeper.
“In 2021 we had in Utah a total of 107 incidents of hate crime,” Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson told a gathering of faith and law enforcement leaders. “In 2022, we have seen an increase up to 133 incidents of hate crimes. That's an increase of 26 incidents, or 24%.”
And for anti-religion hate crimes during that time frame, Anderson said there was a 63% increase.
Better reporting by police has contributed to that rise, but Anderson said there’s still work to do.
“Some of the concern is certainly what we're seeing trend-wise in the state of Utah,” he said. “I would certainly contribute that to more accurate reporting, but still understand where we're at.”
It’s not all bad news, however. According to Anderson, Utah actually has a lower per-capita hate crime rate than neighboring states with 3.9 crimes per 100,000 people, compared to 6.9 in Colorado and 4.2 in Arizona.
To help drive that number down even further, Utah officials hosted law enforcement and faith leaders from across the state at the Faith and Culture Safety and Security Symposium in West Valley City on May 30.
“Confronting unlawful acts of hate is complex and difficult work,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Felice Viti. “The Justice Department does not investigate or prosecute people because of their ideology or their views. In our democracy, people are entitled to voice their opinions, to argue and to debate. But in our democracy, people are not entitled to commit violent acts or make unlawful, violent threats motivated by bias or hate.”
Speakers discussed solutions ranging from hardening places of worship with armed individuals to how to standardize evacuation and lockdown procedures across faith communities.
One of the common threads throughout the presentations was the need for faith communities from across the religious spectrum to coordinate their efforts.
“I think collaboration is absolutely a must, regardless of the type of faith tradition it is,” said Corey Hodges, lead pastor at The Point Church in Kearns. “I think there are things that we can learn from each other. We can pass along best practices.”
For Hodges, being prepared for any situation is faith in action. He hopes communities across Utah take a proactive approach to hate crimes.
“We don't want to be sitting ducks,” he said. “We have to do more than just have hope. We have to do more than just have faith. Some people believe that preparing for such things somehow communicates a lack of faith, that we should just trust God to handle these things and protect us in those moments. But I believe that faith also involves action.”