- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Reporting of hate crime statistics by local law enforcement agencies in Alaska to the FBI has been spotty, with eleven departments filing no reports between 2009 and 2014 and gaps in reporting by many others, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The departments that made no reports during that span are in small, rural communities, like Galena, a river community in Alaska’s Interior that has seen a churn in staff. Galena currently has only one officer.

Departments with gaps of at least two years are in a mix of rural and urban communities, including Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel. However, there was a big improvement in reporting among those communities near the end of that span, in 2013 and 2014.

Reporting of crime statistics, including suspected hate crimes, to the FBI isn’t mandatory. But the FBI encourages reporting by all law enforcement agencies whose officers are empowered to make arrests even if that means recording zero for the period in question. Such reporting signals to the FBI that the local department is paying attention to those types of crimes.

The FBI defines a hate 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.”

In Alaska, the FBI has been trying recently to encourage more reporting, providing training in rural communities on civil rights and underscoring the agency’s reporting request, said Richard VanVeldhuisen, a spokesman for the agency in Anchorage. The agency also is trying to make the reporting process more convenient, he said.

Under state law, criminal justice agencies are to submit crime data to Alaska’s Department of Public Safety, which forwards information to the FBI. The law requires, at a minimum, that agencies report felony sex offenses, and allows for grant funding to be withheld for failure to do so.

Lisa Purinton, a program coordinator with the Department of Public Safety, said she is not aware of any money being withheld from a local agency under that law.

FBI statistics show the Juneau police department did not submit reports until 2013 and 2014, when they reported that they had no incidents. Police chief Bryce Johnson said the department caught the lack of reporting during an internal audit.

“When we realized we weren’t doing it, we started doing it,” he said.

In 2011 and 2012, the FBI does not include hate crime reporting from the Fairbanks Police Department though the department provided The Associated Press with four initial incident reports involving simple assaults in 2011 and two for 2012. In 2013 and 2014, the FBI shows the department reporting zero offenses. But Teal Soden, data management clerk for the department, said internal reports pulled for a separate project showed two cases in both 2013 and 2014.

Soden said she took on the task of submitting reports five months ago and couldn’t speak to the discrepancies. If the data isn’t showing up in the FBI reports, it’s possible that it was not reported or reported late, she said. The person who submitted reports in 2012 through 2014 is no longer with the department, she said.

“This wasn’t even really on my radar,” Soden said. After speaking with the state and learning that it would like that information, she said she would definitely submit the reports.

The department switched records management systems in 2011 and does not have hate crime statistics available prior to then, Soden said.

Johnson said in his experience, an officer will make an initial determination as to whether there was a hate crime, but there also is a secondary review, and it’s from that review that the department reports its numbers.

Officer Paul Pajak with the Galena Police Department said turnover and lack of officers has been an issue in recent years. Since starting on the job in January there hasn’t been a hate crime in town, he said, adding that he didn’t think there would be a problem filing a report.

“I think if it came up that it wouldn’t be an issue,” he said.

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