Dane County District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne announced a new policy for prosecuting hate crimes at a press conference Monday.
“The main purpose of this policy is to draw attention to hate and hate crimes and ask for solidarity and a commitment to eradicating hate and hate crimes,” Ozanne said.
At the center of the new policy is the formation of a Hate Crime Action Team, composed of attorneys and law enforcement officers “to create specialized expertise and an internal resource for consultation and support” within the District Attorney’s Office.
The new policy also calls for hate crime training for staff in the District Attorney’s Office and more data collection on hate crimes and hate incidents — which Ozanne defined as incidents involving bias that don’t rise to the level of chargeable crimes.
Ozanne said the Hate Crime Action Team has been meeting since May to form the new policy, which went into effect November 11.
“We did this because we, like the rest of the country, have seen a rise in hate-fueled criminal behavior,” he said. “We did this because we believe crimes motivated by hate and bias need to be treated with the utmost level of seriousness and cannot be tolerated in Dane County, Wisconsin. We did this because all those living, working and visiting dane county deserve to feel welcome, safe and protected. We did this because we need residents of Dane County to know our criminal justice system is built for all residents, not just those with power and privilege.”
Ozanne said Dane County had charged 31 hate crimes since Wisconsin’s hate crime law went into effect in 2007. The law allows for an enhancement on charges when crimes are motivated in whole or in part by the victim’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or national origin. He also said Dane County has seen an increase in hate and bias incidents in recent years.
The new hate crime policy is part of a broader equity and inclusion plan, which sets goals for diversity in hiring, internal and external training, community collaboration in support of criminal justice reform, support of diversion courts, addressing disparities in juvenile justice, reducing school-based arrests, and other goals.
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said the new hate crime policy is necessary, but reducing crimes motivated by hate and bias will have to involve everyone.
“When an individual or individuals are attacked in their synagogue because of their beliefs, our country has lost control. We must as a nation, as a people, and as a community, examine what we do individually that contributes to the discontent and toxic atmosphere that exists at all levels of our nation,” Mahoney said. “I call upon our lawmakers, our national lawmakers and our state lawmakers, to reexamine their behaviors. Those of us who are elected to office are elected to get the people’s work done. Not to sit in a corner and fight. All of us — citizens, parents, community members and elected officials — must go back into our communities and sow the seeds of tolerance. To have those discussions at home, at school, at the dinner table, in our places of worship. To sow the seeds of tolerance that will end the toxic environment that has led to hate crimes being committed in our own community. Each of us (elected officials) will do our part. We want to work with our communities to help you do your part.”