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GOP councilmember targets ‘bipartisan approach’ for King County hate crime unit

(King County Sheriff's Office)

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn unveiled a proposal Monday for a hate crime unit that would operate within the sheriff’s office.

Local leaders speak out to condemn anti-Asian violence, hate crimes

Dunn cited a “shocking increase” of hate and bias crimes over the last year. According to the King County Prosecutor’s office, the region saw a jump from 30 reported hate crimes in 2018, to 59 in 2020. Combined with the knowledge that many hate crimes often go unreported, Dunn feels now is the time to take action.

Under Dunn’s proposal, an official Hate and Bias Crime Unit would operate as part of the King County Sheriff’s Office, composed of four deputies and an additional support staff member. That team “would be tasked with developing a standard system for collecting, analyzing, and reporting incidents of hate crime,” and driving policies “mindful” of the needs of victims and their families.

Dunn — one of just three Republicans on the King County Council — hopes to garner bipartisan support for his proposal.

“I really think … a bipartisan approach to solving this is the best way to go,” he told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show on Tuesday. “Hate crimes are very serious, and it’s not just a race thing.”

On a larger scale, he believes that King County needs to establish itself as a region that won’t tolerate hate crimes, and have that act as a deterrent in the future.

“The theory of prosecution is deterrence,” Dunn described. “The idea is that you arrest, investigate, prosecute, in part not only to punish the offender, but to send a message to others who would engage in this kind of heinous crime.”

In total, Dunn estimates that the unit would cost roughly $600,000 to fully fund, which he says is a “sound investment” for something “we desperately need.” That money would likely come from the $440 million distributed to King County by the recently-passed American Rescue Plan.

“We really can take the money coming from the federal government and fund this without too much problem,” he noted.

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht expressed support for the idea on Monday, stating that “there is no room for hate and racial bias in our communities.”

“It comes in many forms, such as bullying, racial epithets, verbal abuse and physical violence toward our LGBTQ or BIPOC neighbors,” she said. “I thank Councilmember Dunn for recognizing this unconscionable hate is a bipartisan issue and will take all of us, standing together, to conquer.”

This comes in the midst of concerns over what Gov. Jay Inslee recently labeled a “horrendous surge” in violence against Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. At a press conference last Monday addressing that trend, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that he will be putting $5 million in federal funds from the American Rescue plan toward “community-based organizations to increase funding for anti-hate bias response.”

Hundreds gather at Seattle park to protest attacks on Asian Americans

Local leaders and activists have also echoed calls to reform how hate crimes are prosecuted. In a recent attack against Northshore educator Noriko Nasu, she noted that her case wasn’t being prosecuted as a hate crime, and even if it was, the perpetrator wouldn’t actually get additional jail time.

“Does the legal system have any real interest in protecting the Asian-American community from hate crimes?” Nasu posited. “I do not think so, and I am not the only one.”

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