Phoenix had third most reported hate crimes in the country in 2017

PHOENIX - From racist graffiti to violent attacks, Phoenix had the third most reported hate crimes in the country last year.

Ari Simones remembers the moment.

"July 4th, 2017...The first thing I saw was a black swastika on the front of our mailbox," said Simones.

Simones had just returned with his family from vacation to find the swastika and word 'Jews' on his mailbox. Phoenix police categorized it as a hate crime.

MAP: 22 known hate groups around Arizona

"We had emotions from upset and sad and angry, but I think the overarching feeling was just disappointed," Simones said.

The attack was one of 27 anti-Jewish hate crimes in Phoenix last year.

"We see a lot of swastikas, assaults, it varies from month to month on who the offenders are, and who the victims are," said Detective Brandy Willingham.

Detective Willingham heads up the Phoenix Police Department's bias crimes unit, which most major cities do not have.

"We literally focus on these crimes and investigate them differently than a typical assault case," she said.

The same goes for categorizing, Phoenix police say they look to be as thorough as possible when it comes to hate crimes. Other cities appear to take a more relaxed approach to the personal attacks.

For instance, despite much larger populations, Chicago only had 61 hate crimes in 2017, and Houston had just 11.

Phoenix had more hate crimes against African Americans, 74 in 2017, than both larger cities combined. In addition to anti-black attacks, anti-gay (32), anti-white (28), and anti-jewish (27) were the other most targeted groups.

In 2018, the numbers dipped, but African Americans, gay men, and white people were still the most targeted groups.

"Does Phoenix have a hate problem?" asked ABC15's Zach Crenshaw.

"No," said Det. Willingham.

"Why not, because on paper it looks like we do?" said Crenshaw.

"It does, and that’s because of the broken reporting system," she replied.

Detective Willingham said few cities are dedicating resources like Phoenix. Not only for solving the crimes, but seeking them out.

"The impact of hate crimes is not like a stolen vehicle," said Carlos Galindo-Elvira, Director of the Anti-Defamation League Arizona. "It’s a message crime. It’s not only intended for the victim or victims, but it’s intended for the whole community that’s targeted."

Galindo-Elvira said the Phoenix bias crimes unit has relationships with minority groups across the city. So when threatening attacks aim to silence, communities still feel comfortable telling the police.

"That gives us the opportunity to provide information on behalf of a victim or victims," said Galindo-Elvira.

While numbers increased 33 percent in 2017, they are down for the first half of 2018, on par with the numbers from 2016.

"A lot of the climate politically, particularly, was making it more okay to hate," said Simones.

Even in 2018, with all the technology around homes and at law enforcement's fingertips, arrests are difficult in hate crimes.

"If you see an issue, report it," said Det. Willingham. "And we are going to do the best we can to A, prevent it. And B, do what we can after the fact to serve justice."

Unfortunately, whoever spray painted Simone's mailbox was never caught. But the mailbox has been re-painted.

"We invited everybody [in the neighborhood] to come and paint symbols of love and peace," he said.

Where a swastika was once scrawled, the words 'Proud Jews' are now written.

And if the criminals were looking to intimidate and divide.

"If that was the goal of whoever did this, they failed miserably," he said.

The Phoenix Police Department is now training all new recruits on how to recognize and respond to hate crimes.

If you want to see which groups were most targeted in 2017, click here.

If you want to see which groups were most targeted in 2016, click here.

If you want to see which groups have been the most targeted for the first quarter of 2018, click here.
 

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