Hate and Bias Crimes

>> Learn more about the Bias Unit
>> Go to the Hate Crime and Bias Incidents Dashboard

What is a Hate Crime?

Hate Crime Offense is the legal term used for these types of crimes. The motivation for the suspect targeting a particular person was based on their belief about the victims’ membership in one of the legally prescribed categories. In Washington State, these categories are:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender expression or identity
  • Mental, physical, or sensory handicap

In addition to the above categories, the City of Seattle includes these categories:

  • Homelessness
  • Marital status
  • Age
  • Parental status
  • Gender identity
  • Political ideology

This usually involves an assault, property damage, or threat of harm and can be a violation of federal law, state, or municipal code.

Even if the victim does not belong to a certain protected status, if they were selected because they were perceived to be of that status, that is still considered a hate crime.

Reporting a Hate Crime

If the incident is happening now, call 911 immediately.

If the incident occurred in the past, or the immediate danger is over and there are no injuries, call (206) 625-5011.

When reporting a hate crime:

  • Ask the officer to make a note in their report that you believed the incident was motivated by your status.
  • If you can, give the officer the exact wording of what was said, regardless of how offensive it is.
  • If there are witnesses to the incident, point them out to officers at the scene.

If the case meets the criteria for a hate crime, your case will be forwarded to the Bias Crime Coordinator or another detective for a follow up investigation.

Seattle Police Officers will not ask about immigration status and reporting an incident to us will not be reported or shared with immigration services.

When is an incident not considered a hate crime?

A hate crime must include a crime. A crime can be defined as the following:

  • When a person assaults the victim or another person
  • When a person causes physical damage to or destroys the property of another person
  • When a person makes threats that causes a person or group to have reasonable fear of harm to their person or property

Free speech is not a hate crime. Although offensive and derogatory language is hurtful and harmful, hateful speech is protected by the Constitution and can be expressed if it does not accompany a crime. For example, if a person uses insulting or derogatory words but does not place another person in reasonable fear of harm to their person or property, this is not a hate crime.

Hate Crimes, Crimes with Bias Elements, and Bias Incidents

The Seattle Police Department recognizes that even non-criminal hate incidents can still be harmful to the community. The Seattle Police Department documents and tracks crimes that contain bias elements and non-criminal bias incidents.

A crime with bias elements is any crime where the suspect does not target the victim for their protected status, but the suspect uses a derogatory comment directed at the victim’s protected status or group. For example, if the suspect is in the process of committing another crime and calls the victim a derogatory name, it does not automatically mean it is a hate crime.

A bias incident is most often an offensive derogatory comment directed at a person’s protected status. While not criminal in nature, the comments may cause a level of fear and concern within the targeted community.

If it is found that there is no directly enforceable action that can be taken by police, this does not mean that what happened wasn’t wrong. Sometimes, victims have the option of bringing a civil cause of action against the suspect, which carries a lower burden of proof than criminal enforcement. The suspect may be liable to the victim for actual damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees and other incurred costs. You will need to contact a private attorney to start a civil action.


Sue Rahr, Interim Chief of Police
Address: 610 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98104-1900
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA, 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 625-5011
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The Seattle Police Department (SPD) prevents crime, enforces laws, and supports quality public safety by delivering respectful, professional, and dependable police services. SPD operates within a framework that divides the city into five geographical areas called "precincts".