- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii is the only state that doesn’t participate in the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Program. Instead, state officials currently compile their own hate crimes report with information collected from local prosecutors rather than police.

The Associated Press identified more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments across the country that have not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI’s annual crime tally during the past six years - about 17 percent of all city and county law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Because Hawaii’s four local police agencies don’t send such information to the FBI, the nine hate crimes recorded in a statewide report from 2009 to 2014 were not reflected in the national statistics. The state’s most recent report includes two hate crimes in 2015, both on Kauai involving anti-Caucasian epithets.

Filing reports for the federal count is voluntary.

The state is moving toward a new police reporting system that will involve sending hate crime reports to the FBI.

In the meantime, some legal experts and community advocates expressed concern that the current system might not truly reflect Hawaii’s hate crime climate.

“Leaving it up to local prosecutors to exercise discretion is probably resulting in skewing information about these matters,” said Eric Seitz, a Honolulu attorney who represented two gay women who recently settled their lawsuit against Honolulu for $80,000 over allegations a police officer unnecessarily arrested them for kissing in a grocery store.

It’s driven by a desire to protect Hawaii’s image in the tourism industry, he said: “(The state) doesn’t want negative things to be publicized.”

Joshua Wisch, special assistant to Hawaii’s attorney general, said that’s not what motivates how the state reports hate crimes. “By placing the point of data collection at the prosecution level, Hawaii’s program utilizes limited police resources more efficiently, avoids false positives, and is based on incidents that clearly meet the state’s legal definition of hate crimes,” he said in a statement.

Avoiding false positives is important, but there could be some incidents that don’t make it to court for various reasons, including not finding a suspect or cooperative witness, Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said.

“And therefore, those cases wouldn’t be included in the tally or in the report,” he said. “So that’s the concern that does come up that it’s actually being underreported because of the way the process is set up.”

The current process works well for police, Maj. Randy Apele of the Hawaii Police Department said. “It works for us because if it’s designated as a possible hate crime, we flag it so that prosecutors can properly investigate it,” he said.

Hate crimes aren’t underreported, because the state’s reports accurately reflect how rare such incidents are in the islands, Apele said. “I think in Hawaii we have such a melting pot of nationalities, cultures,” he said. “Everyone lives cooperatively with the aloha spirit in Hawaii and is very accepting.”

Hawaii does submit data on violent crimes such as homicide and rape to the FBI.

The state will send hate crime reports to the FBI when it switches to a new police filing system with that crime reporting built into it, Wisch said. Each of Hawaii’s police departments will transition to the new process on different schedules, beginning as early as this fall, he said.

Hawaii will benefit from that change, Kollar said. “Consistency I think would be beneficial just so that we know where we stand in relation to other states and are better able to assess whether or not we’re really doing our job as law enforcement.”


AP Writer Christina Almeida Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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