Local Police Train Up on Hate Crime
Matthew Shepard Foundation helps create intra-agency network
Fifty law enforcement professionals from across Central Texas, and even as far away as Dallas, attended a daylong hate crime training in Austin on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Led by the Matthew Shepard Foundation's Judy and Dennis Shepard – parents of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered in 1998 – the intensive course went beyond simply what happens when an officer responds to a crime that may have been motivated by hate. "Our officers have all been talked to about hate crimes," explained Michael Crumrine, Austin police sergeant and president of the Lesbian and Gay Peace Officers Association. "But this was like a dance class. This was practice working together [with different departments and offices] to deep-dive into actual case scenarios." Crumrine, who helped organize the training with the Shepards, said the goal was to help everyone who has a "stake in doing these investigations properly" fully understand what legal options are available when a hate crime is committed in Texas.
The state's James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, signed by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2001, belittles gays, lesbians, and bisexuals by covering sexual "preference" rather than orientation and does not address gender identity at all, despite the risks faced by trans and gender-nonconforming people in Texas. The near-toothless law only works as an enhancement to the arresting charge and, as Crumrine noted, cannot be applied to bump a misdemeanor charge up to a felony count. However, the 2009 federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, and there are additional protections for marginalized communities in federal civil rights and fair housing laws.
Last week's course, according to Crumrine, helped educate attendees on which of these laws were useful and when charges would best be pursued in state or federal court. Though the outcome of the training will likely be hard to track by numbers, Crumrine said it's both about helping agencies realize the resources available and creating a collaborative intra-agency network. "I was impressed by how many individuals we have in Texas who are very invested and dedicated to doing this well," said Crumrine. "That's what we want – all of us on the same page saying there's a certain behavior that will not be tolerated, no matter what. Time will tell as things go on, but having this type of training hopefully eliminates miscommunication and dropped balls."