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The state of policing hate

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Reports of hate crimes increased more than 12 percent in America's ten largest cities last year, according to a report from California State University, San Bernardino

A separate study from the Anti-Defamation League found that the majority of extremist-related killings last year were committed by white supremacists. 

And yet for the past two decades, law enforcement has focused its domestic counterterrorism efforts almost entirely on Islamic or foreign-born terrorism.

Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino who was formerly a New York City police officer, told MPR News guest host Marianne Combs that focus was largely in response to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Erroll Southers, director of the Safe Communities Institute at the University of Southern California and a former special agent with the FBI, told Combs that focus made sense as a response to one of the worst terrorist attacks on US soil. 

But, he also notes that it's uncomfortable to look at the hatred that is bred in our own country.

"We exercise what I call 'otherism' where we tend to look at the threat as being something else," Southers said. "Whenever we've had attacks in this country by Americans we tend to distance ourselves from these attackers."

That desire for distance, however, doesn't reflect today's reality.   "Right now, we have a very diversified threat matrix," Levin said. "Of which, white nationalists and far right extremists are the most ascendant, but not the only risk." 

"The problem is," Levin continued, "the most likely extremist that we'll run into will be someone from our region." 

These threats are complicated, but Levin and Southers suggested a few simple steps that have potential to go a long way: 

• Local police departments need to familiarize themselves with the hate groups operating in their own areas    

Southers:"When we talk about organizations that are in their jurisdictions, they are woefully ignorant of the organizations that are operating and hiding in plain sight."

• Create a common language 

Southers: "We don't even have a definition of terrorism that's embraced by all of the law enforcement agencies who are responsible for investigating and prosecuting terrorism in this country."

•  Use a shared set of definitions and track the data  

There are 92 cities with populations over 100,000 that either didn't report any hate crimes or said that their city had zero hate crimes. 

Levin concluded, "We know that something is happening if you look at all of these indicators, and what we need is greater attention, policies and information sharing about these violent risks."

 Use the audio player above to hear the full discussion