Hamilton Police starting new unit to address hate crimes

Hamilton police chief Frank Bergen

Hamilton Police are building a new tool to help tackle the wave of anti-Semitism and other hate sweeping the city.

The new Hate Crime Case Review Team will bring community agencies together with police to review cases, provide recommendations on handling hate and advise on training for officers on the front lines.

Newly appointed police chief Frank Bergen said in an interview the new team is a way of showing the community the police are serious about tackling hate.

“Every time we give a statistic about hate crimes, people say it means nothing,” he said in an interview. “The public wants action, and they criticize us when they think we are just saying the words.”

“We are going to lean into challenges like this,” he added. “We are asking the community to help us design the program.”

The new team is modelled after the city’s Sexual Assault Community Review Team. It meets to review sexual assault cases deemed unfounded or lacking sufficient evidence to lay charges. It was created following a 2018 community report that concluded up to 70 per cent of sexual assault cases deemed unfounded by police should have been pursued.

Six cases were reopened because of that initiative, and one has resulted in charges.

In a news release police said the goal of the new program will be “to work collaboratively to develop comprehensive recommendations to improve outcomes for hate crime victims. Similar to the (sexual assault team), the scope of the review will include an internal and external analysis of hate crime investigations, as well as looking at policies, procedures, and training. Organizational representatives on the Hate Crime Case Review Team would also have a background in anti-racism, anti-oppression practices.”

In 2020, there were 80 hate/bias incidents reported to Hamilton Police. The number includes both suspected hate/bias incidents and criminal offences. Blacks and Jews continue to be the communities most targeted by such incidents.

One such incident involved two Hamilton men who, after a night of drinking, scrawled anti-Semitic messages in chalk on the parking lot of the city’s Beth Jacob Synagogue.

That incident was elevated from mischief to a hate crime. Liam Greaves and Blake Trautman are to be sentenced Aug. 11.

In another Hamilton-area incident, two Burlington men were convicted in January of willfully promoting hatred for a spree of incidents in Burlington that included posting anti-Semitic materials on private cars and public buildings. Each received a six-month conditional sentence order and two years probation.

The new Hamilton program will also seek to enhance support for victims by having the force’s hate crime detective and victim services staff making contact after an incident is reported. Victim services workers will provide emotional support, assist in safety planning, provide community referrals, and guide victims on accessing financial support in some cases.

They can also help victims navigate the reporting process, including use of the city’s new online reporting program.

“Hate crime in Hamilton is not acceptable. Left unchecked, we know hate crime can have a far-reaching impact on communities. We must come together and work collaboratively to eliminate hate in our city,” said Bergen.

Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said while the program “is only an idea at this time,” it’s a good idea with the potential to help once its detail are unveiled.

Making it easier to report hate crimes, Rymberg said, is a good step, but details are needed about what happens once a report is filed.

Real progress, he added, needs action by the federal government and the courts.

“Fixing hate crime takes more than just our local police,” he said.

Hate crimes can be reported online at www.hamiltonpolice.on.ca. Reporting hate/bias incidents can also be reported on the phone at 905-546-4925 or in person at any Hamilton Police station. Organizations interested in participating can contact Community Relations Coordinator Jas Dhillon at 905-546-4910 or [email protected].