Idaho’s reputation as a home for bigots wasn’t helped by a recent Department of Law Enforcement report, showing an increase in hate crimes throughout the state.
The number of incidents in Idaho more than doubled from 33 in 1991 to 78 in 1994. More than 80 reports have already been logged this year. That bucks the national trend which shows a decrease in the number of attacks on people because of racial or ethnic status, or religious or sexual orientation.
“Still, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the numbers show we are a state of bigots,” said Donna Wood, a crime-data analyst for the Department of Law Enforcement.
The numbers were skewed, she said, by a one-day vandalism spree in Idaho Falls. Thirteen reports were recorded from people there whose cars had racial slurs written or painted on them.
“That’s a big increase when we are talking such small numbers anyway,” Wood said.
The state Human Rights Commission is also skeptical about the statistics. The agency plans to do a more detailed study of the hate crimes being reported by authorities.
“There is a concern that some things are getting reported that don’t belong in the hate crime category or that people are not reporting things that should be reported,” said Marilyn Shuler, director of the Human Rights Commission.
“I don’t have any evidence that Idaho is any more racist than any other place in the country. We just have some small pockets of some very embarrassing folks that call Idaho home.”
One surprise was the majority of the hate crime victims in Idaho were white. Of the 78 reports last year, whites were listed as victims in 23 of the incidents, followed by Hispanics, 19, blacks, 11, and gays or lesbians who were victims in nine reports.
“That makes sense because whites are the majority in the state,” Wood said. “There just isn’t a large minority population here.”
Most of the crimes reported, about 56 percent, involved vandalism or intimidation. The majority of reports came from cities in southern Idaho, such as Idaho Falls and Nampa, not North Idaho where some of the state’s Aryan and anti-Semitic groups have settled.
Sandpoint reported two incidents last year. Both were assaults on homosexuals. Coeur d’Alene logged two hate crimes while the Kootenai County sheriff’s office reported one assault against a black man.
“Law enforcement up north has been very vigilant and do a good job of taking these incidents seriously,” Shuler said. “There has been community support in North Idaho for equity and people there are saying it’s not OK to be intolerant.”
Of the 115 law enforcement agencies in the state, only 29 reported hate crimes. All the agencies are trained the same way and given the same criteria to assess hate crimes, but Shuler suspects some agencies take it more seriously.
“It’s puzzling for instance that Nampa (which recorded the second-most hate crimes) had so many and nearby Caldwell had none. So is this just happening within Nampa or are they just more alert to reporting certain incidents?” Shuler said. “That’s why we want to look at these figures and find out more.”
Nationally, fewer than 5,900 hate crimes were reported in 1994. That’s down about 15 percent from the 6,700 reported the year before. Blacks were the victims of 2,100 of those, with Jewish people the second most targeted group at 900.
New York and New Jersey reported the most incidents. Montana reported none.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kevin Keating Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report