The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released data which showed there were 186 hate crimes reported in Indiana in 2020, more than double the amount that was reported the previous year.
But Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said the increase likely occurred because more people are reporting these crimes than ever before. Mears’ office launched a hate crime hotline earlier this year and is working to connect with communities affected by hate crimes.
A hate crime is a crime motivated by a social identifier or characteristic that someone may have. Legal language surrounding these crimes can be difficult, Mears said.
“One of the problems that we have here in Indiana is we don't really have a hate crime law. And so it can be somewhat tricky to define,” Mears said.
Mears said hate crimes historically have been vastly underreported, because these incidents can be hard to talk about.
“Hate crimes are traditionally one of the most underreported groups of crimes that we have in our country,” Mears said. “I think that continues to be true, which is why I think it's so important that we do outreach on this particular topic and try to raise awareness.”
Since the launch of the hotline, Mears said, the prosecutor’s office has received a high number of calls, from residents calling with general questions about hate crimes to reporting specific incidents. The hotline is available in English and Spanish, but Mears said it’s evident the hotline needs to be expanded to other languages.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is also doing more outreach to build trust between the department and the community. IMPD is hosting more community events and organizing opportunities for residents to speak with police officers one-on-one.
IMPD Commander Lorenzo Lewis said he thinks the efforts have led to more people reporting crimes.
“Of course, more reporting makes it look like it's more dangerous than it ever was, but I don't believe that,” Lewis said. “I just believe that people are more comfortable reporting because of the positive relationships that we're building in the community with law enforcement.”
Lewis said he encourages community members to reach out to IMPD to report crimes even if they are hesitant to do so. He said the earlier the department gets involved, the more likely they will be able to make an arrest.
“As a police officer, we want to most definitely get ahead of that potential violence that may occur,” he said.