Reports of hate crimes in Oregon rose nearly 60% in 2020, according to new numbers from the FBI.

The jump is likely due to improved recordkeeping as well as an actual increase in hate crimes, according to Kieran Ramsey, FBI special agent in charge for Oregon, who briefed media representatives in a video call Wednesday.

“We know that hate crimes have historically been underreported, both nationally and here in the state of Oregon,” Ramsey said. “And we know hate crimes are on the rise.”’

The FBI defines a hate crime as an offense motivated in part by a bias against a person’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.

In 2019, there were 170 reports of hate crimes in Oregon, and 271 in 2020.

There were 242 reported victims in 2019 and 360 reported victims in 2020.

About 70% of reported incidents in Oregon were over a person’s race, ethnicity or ancestry, and victims perceived as Black were the most frequently targeted racial group. Sexual orientation was the motivator in about 10% of reported incidents in Oregon.

The hate crimes figures were collected as part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. In 2020, 207 of 234 Oregon law enforcement agencies submitted data for the report.

Nationally, there were 7,554 “single bias incidents” reported to the FBI in 2020, and 7,081 reported in 2019.

Bias incidents are a separate category from bias crimes. They typically involve a form of speech targeting a person, and cannot be prosecuted by local district attorneys. The charge of bias crime may be filed if a person commits a crime and is found to have been motivated by a type of bias.

House Bill 577, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2019, updated Oregon’s original hate crime law, elevating penalties for bias crimes and expanding who may be charged. The law also mandated the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission produce an annual report on bias crimes. District attorneys must provide data on the crimes charged out of their offices beginning in July 2022, meaning more data on charging decisions will be available next year.

Bias crime cases remain difficult to prove. Unlike most crimes, a conviction for bias crime requires proving why a person committed a crime, not just that the person committed it, according to Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting.

“To prove a bias crime, we still need to prove the defendant knowingly caused physical injury to the victim,” Whiting said, “but also that the assault was committed specifically because of a bias towards the victim’s race, color, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. Absent overt derogatory name calling or use of racial slurs during the assault, the bias element can be very challenging to prove.”

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel has charged the offense nearly a dozen times since House Bill 577 went into effect. As of Wednesday, there were eight pending bias crime cases in Deschutes County and one in Crook County. Last month, Whiting charged the crime against a juvenile. The Crook County School District was notified and the case is ongoing, Whiting said.

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