The number of local hate crimes is low, but the trend line is rising even as most incidents go unreported: That's the message from Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
Acts against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are just a fraction of the area's reported hate crimes, which can target victims not only because of race but also because of disability, gender, nationality, religion or sexual orientation, Jonsen and Rosen said during several recent presentations on the topic.
Three out of the 10 hate crimes filed so far this year in Santa Clara County were against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Rosen said. In 2020, a total of 14 hate crimes in all categories were filed, he added.
Palo Alto has averaged about 4.8 hate crimes a year since 2016 — up from 3.6 hate crimes a year from 2006 to 2015, Jonsen said. Two-thirds of those pertain to property, such as vandalism of signs, and about one-third are physical crimes like assaults, he said.
"Santa Clara County is a relatively safe county, and Palo Alto is extremely safe," Jonsen said.
But the data probably captures just a small fraction of actual incidents, both officials said.
"We believe there's a lot that's not reported to us," Jonsen said. "We hear about a lot of things third hand that never get reported to the police department."
A nonprofit tracking center, Stop AAPI Hate, recorded 3,794 anti-Asian incidents nationwide since its founding in early 2020 to February 2021. The group has created a reporting system for incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at stopaapihate.org. The nonprofit was co-founded by the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action.
Jonsen and Rosen urge the public to report all potential hate crimes and incidents to local police.
If it's an act of violence, call 911. If it's even an insensitive remark, call your local police department, Jonsen said.
"We will come out and have a conversation. Even if it doesn't rise to the level of a crime, we still want to document it," Jonsen said.
Both officials stressed that hate crimes are motivated by bias and typically involve violence or a criminal act against a person or their property, while hate incidents can include horrible words but don't involve a criminal threat.
"It's the difference between words and actions," Rosen said. "A hate incident is yelling and screaming at someone because they're Jewish, Asian, Muslim, Black — saying horrible slurs against someone, but that's all. It's not threatening to hurt them or throwing a punch at them."
Jonsen spoke April 16 and April 26 at virtual events organized by Palo Alto City Council member Lydia Kou and Los Altos City Council member Lynette Lee Eng in partnership with Avenidas senior center and the cities of Palo Alto and Los Altos.
Rosen spoke virtually on April 20 to the Yale Club of Silicon Valley.