FBI prioritizes how to best document hate crimes in NM

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

In April 2010, Paul Beebe, Jesse Sanford and William Hatch were accused of kidnapping a Navajo man with mental disabilities in Farmington, writing anti-gay slurs on the man, branding him with a wire hanger and shaving a swastika on to his head.

Raul Bujanda (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The three became the first in the country to be charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

More than a decade later, the FBI fears hate crimes in New Mexico are going unreported and is trying to better document incidents across the state as federal authorities focus on civil rights as one of their top priorities.

Raul Bujanda, special agent in charge of the FBI Albuquerque office, said the issue is “dear to the heart” of the agency and he believes they could be collecting better data.

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.”

Bujanda said that in 2018, 25 hate crimes were reported in New Mexico. In 2019, the number jumped to 50. Data for 2020 was not available.

“There’s just a lot of instances that have happened, unfortunately, in the past several years that have made us look to see, ‘What is going on in America?’ ” he said.

Bujanda has noted an uptick in hate-based threats that are “more violent in general” and believes, based on what’s being seen across the country, the numbers are much higher.

“We don’t have a whole lot of confidence in the numbers. We felt for the most part that hate crimes were being underreported,” he said. “How do you quantify hate crimes? … It’s all really based on what people tell us and how it gets reported to us.”

To that end, the FBI is launching a campaign to raise awareness in the community about hate crimes and how to report them to the FBI, while planning to train local and state law enforcement to better document such crimes.

In recent years, the bureau changed its crime data reporting system from the Uniform Crime Reporting model to the more-detailed National Incident-Based Reporting System, which specifies hate crimes in a way the UCR didn’t.

Although it’s voluntary for local and state law enforcement agencies to provide crime data, Bujanda believes NIBRS will give a clearer picture of hate crimes in the state.

Bujanda said they are planning to start training, either in-person or virtual, for local and state law enforcement on “what a hate crime is” in the hopes of getting better data through those partnerships.

On the community side, the FBI is meeting with civic leaders and holding events to get the word out. They attended a recent event at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque and are going to be at the Aki Matsuri Japanese Festival in September.

Bujanda said there is much more to come.

“We want to make sure we get that word out to the community and say, ‘If you are or if you believe that you’re a victim of a hate crime, simply just call us,’ ” Bujanda said. “We want to get that message out there so we can go from maybe underreporting to actual true numbers.”

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