Although the city of Madison posted the highest number of hate crimes in Wisconsin last year, the statistics may not tell the whole story.
Out of a statewide total of 47 hate crimes reported in 2000, Madison claimed 16. However, large communities like Milwaukee and Racine reported zero.
Madison Police Department public information officer Larry Kamholz said this inconsistency could stem from the way different Wisconsin police departments classify hate crimes.
“I find it hard to believe there are no hate crimes in Milwaukee,” Kamholz said. “How each department classifies crimes in their reporting system is different. How we have chosen to do it may be different than how Milwaukee has chosen to do it.”
Furthermore, the statistics may not accurately reflect reality because victims often do not report hate crimes.
Kamholz said people in Madison feel more comfortable reporting hate crimes compared to residents of other cities.
“We do an excellent job of educating both the community and the department, so people feel comfortable reporting it to us,” he said.
However, Lt. Wayne Strong said determining why Madison has the most hate crimes would be “pure speculation.”
“It could be more people are reporting it … or that the climate here is such that people feel more comfortable reporting hate crimes,” he said. “Or it could be there are just more hate crimes in Madison. It could be any number of things.”
Captain Brian O’Keefe of the Milwaukee Criminal Investigation Bureau said his department obeys the Wisconsin state statute defining hate crimes.
“The state statute goes statewide,” he said. “We just follow the state statute.”
Wisconsin police departments use Statute 939.645 to characterize a hate crime. The definition involves a crime committed against a person or property “in whole or in part because of the actor’s belief or perception regarding the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property.” The statute applies whether or not the perpetrator’s belief or perception was correct.
If the police classify an offense as a hate crime, the penalty increases.
“If a battery or a theft is motivated by any of these factors, it is considered a penalty enhancer,” Strong said.
Although state law applies uniformly, the statute is open to interpretation.
For example, the Capital Times reported that three teens in Appleton last year sprayed a Christian in the face with pepper spray and yelled, “Jesus is a fag!” and “Satan rules!”
However, Appleton reported no hate crimes in 2000.
Other cities reporting hate crimes included Sheboygan with five reports, Wasau with four and Hayward and Siren with one. Janesville and Green Bay reported zero.
For the past four years, Madison and Sheboygan have been the top two cities reporting hate crimes in Wisconsin.
The 2000 statistics were similar to those from the past decade, Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance official Tom Eversen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Office of Justice Assistance compiles the figures for the state’s hate crime report. Eversen was not available for comment Monday.
Of Madison’s 16 reported crimes, 13 were related to anti-homosexual sentiment. Two-thirds of the hate crimes involved intimidation, and the remaining third involved simple assault. Most of the offenders were white.
-Morgan Felchner contributed to this report