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Small Arizona agencies lax on hate crime reporting

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St. Johns police chief Daniel Brown is like a lot of top cops in small Arizona towns — short of staff, short of administrative support, and short on crime.

The chief in the eastern Arizona town — population 3,483 as of last year — spends most of his time handling small-town issues like domestic violence calls or “somebody riding somebody else’s horse, cows getting out in the street.”

Hate crime is not an issue in St. Johns. If it were, he’d report it.

But St. Johns hasn’t been filing its required reports on the crimes, for at least six years now, even though they’d just show a zero.

The department is among five across Arizona that have failed to file FBI hate crime reports every year since 2009, filings that help the Department of Justice, researchers and journalists track the ebb and flow of hate crimes across the country. Without the data — reports are required even if no hate crimes happened — the national and state statistics lose their value.

The other four are the Hayden, Kearney, and Superior police departments — miles apart in the mountains just east of Phoenix — and the Patagonia Marshal’s Office.

Kearney Mayor Sam Hosler points to a common thread in the small towns — high turnover among top cops. His town is without a chief, as has been common in recent years.

“It is easy to explain, because Superior has had a turnover in police chiefs on a par with ours — and so has Hayden — I’m sure that’s what it is,” Hosler said. “One of the problems is that we are very small, we have inadequate finances, all of us — mining towns, that has a lot to do with it. “

Patagonia town Marshal Joe Patterson was surprised to learn his tiny department showed up with no filings.

“We’ve done our filings – I’ll have to check with the officer who’s done it,” he said in a recent interview. “But we have not had any hate crimes or anything that we’ve established as a hate crime.”

In addition to the five with no hate crime reports between 2009-2014, 87 other agencies, both large and small, missed at least one yearly filing during that time.

Jerome is another small town that is missing reports, having filed the 2009 report but none since. Police Chief Allen Muma has led the department for more than a dozen years, and he can remember only one hate crime, in 2007.

Like many of the local Arizona chiefs reached by The Associated Press, Muma wasn’t aware that he hadn’t been filing required reports. Short of support staff for much of the past several years, he said he’d still managed to file required crime statistics. The data is collected by the Department of Public Safety, which says it notifies local agencies of missing reports. But Muma and other chiefs said they don’t recall any notices.

More importantly, he said he didn’t understand why a report is required if no crimes occurred. And if the FBI needs the information anyway, why no one at the state combined the reporting with others collected electronically.

“All they have to do is stick that in there as another report that has to be filed, and then you couldn’t go past there without filing,” Muma said.

Defined as crimes motivated by religious, ethnic, racial, sexual identity, orientation, gender or disability reasons, the latest FBI hate crime reports from 2014 show 99 Arizona law enforcement agencies filing their hate crime reports.

Of those, 22 agencies reported a total of 265 hate crimes that year. The state’s most populous city, Phoenix, reported the most hate crimes, 58.

But even small agencies had hate-motivated crimes. The police department at Northern Arizona University, which protects less than 30,000 students, reported 10 hate crimes in 2014. No other university reported any.

University police Cmdr. Missy Freshour said Wednesday that most of those reports actually involved the same student, who reported multiple incidents of being targeted for his sexual orientation. No suspects were ever identified. She also said the relative high number may stem from the setting.

“Philosophically, being on a university campus, we may be a little more lenient in what we are identifying as a hate crime just because of the environment,” Freshour said. “And our reporting public is probably a little more aware when they report to us.”

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