Zaynab Mohamed was working at the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Minnesota office a couple of years ago when she and a colleague smelled gas. Outside, they found piles of car tires soaked in fuel, ready to be set aflame.

They were scared but not totally surprised. It was another in a long line of incidents large and small that their group has faced through the years. They called police to report what happened, just as they always do. But some targeted groups don't.

Hate crimes and other bias incidents often go unreported and are sometimes mischaracterized by authorities, said Mohamed, now a DFL state senator in Minneapolis: "Statistics have been wrong time and time again."

The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill that seeks to improve the reporting and tracking of bias incidents. The proposal would allow trusted community groups to collect information from people who may not feel comfortable talking to the police and otherwise let something go unreported.

The measure, part of the House public safety budget proposal, includes funding for the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to train law enforcement to better identify bias-motivated crimes. The law would require the board to consult community groups most affected by such crimes. The bill would also increase the severity of the crime if property damage was rooted in bias.

Hate incidents have risen sharply in Minnesota in recent years, and advocates say many still go unreported. In 2021, there were 301 bias incidents against "persons, property or society" (such as hateful leaflets) in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 60% were motivated by racial bias, 16% by religious bias and another 16% by sexual orientation, the report showed.

Racial bias incidents jumped from 59 in 2019, 134 in 2020 and 175 in 2021.

Both high-profile events such as the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings and neighborhood-level verbal attacks have affected the Asian American community in Minnesota and across the country since the start of the pandemic.

Violence including the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado and the attack on a transgender person at a Minneapolis light rail station "have really heightened that feeling of vulnerability as a community," said Kat Rohn of OutFront Minnesota. "People are taking a renewed look at what steps we are taking to address these."

If the bill passes, community organizations will be able take what they hear to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which would compile a report giving a better picture of what's happening in the state, said Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center, the bill's chief author.

Many bias-motivated incidents in Minnesota happen close to home, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store or at the park, she said.

"Right now you can only report a hate crime to a police officer, and many times our communities don't really trust police officers, or perhaps a police officer wouldn't really know what to do or to identify that as a hate crime," Vang said.

That fear contributes to the underreporting the FBI and other law enforcement organizations have noted the last two decades, said Brandon Schorsch, program manager of the Communities Combating Hate Coalition, a group of organizations advocating for the bill.

"Many communities that are affected by hate and bias crimes also don't have the best relationships with police," Schorsch said. "A lot of people feel like their story might not be heard."

Individuals have come into the office to share their experience after an incident where they weren't taken seriously or had it attributed to something else, Rohn said.

"That lack of follow-through and trust leads to people just saying, 'Well, I'm not going to report it at all,' " Rohn said.

Horrific bias crimes garner the most attention, but lower-level incidents are still important for community members to know what is happening in their neighborhood or city, said Beth Gendler, executive director of Jewish Community Action.

Advocates hope the changes to the law could be an important step in rebuilding trust between community organizations and police.

"Until that work is done there's going to be a continuing gap there," Rohn said. "I think in the interim, that's going to make this work complicated for all parties involved."

Both the community and law enforcement want to reduce bias incidents, Mohamed said.

"I go to the mosque all the time, and I don't ever want to be scared to go to the mosque because I don't know who's gonna walk in," she said.