Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Wednesday that he plans to issue a report before the Legislature convenes in February recommending changes to the way hate crimes are investigated and counted, part of a broader legislative push to combat an increase in bias-motivated incidents.
"It's our effort to take this problem seriously in order to preserve life and even more importantly, in my view, to enhance strong, welcoming communities that protect all people," Ellison said.
Ellison has not spelled out any of the proposed changes, but said his recommendations will be informed by suggestions from a statewide tour as well as from state and federal law enforcement, faith leaders and elected officials who gathered Wednesday in St. Paul.
Ellison's report is expected to coincide with new legislation to expand how police are trained to respond to bias-motivated crimes. That bill, which will be introduced by state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, would also expand data collection requirements to include reports made by community organizations.
Bias-motivated incidents reported by Minnesota law enforcement increased 22% from 2016 to 2017, the most recent year for which state data are available. The FBI is expected to release numbers for 2018 later this month. Such reports have long been believed to vastly undercount the true number of bias-motivated crimes that occur each year in Minnesota and nationally — the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the annual total of hate crimes at 250,000 nationally.
Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which annually collects data on bias-motivated incidents to send to the FBI, cited a need to improve recognition of suspected hate crimes at the outset of investigations.
"If we don't do that in the beginning, we never get to the point where we notify the FBI," Evans said.
The attorney general's report on hate crimes will follow separate reports expected in January on drug pricing and officer-involved shootings.