On Monday, Westfield State hosted the program, “Creating Safer Communities,” a hate crime training opportunity which featured several speakers including a retired civil rights attorney for the FBI, an assistant Hampden County district attorney, a retired special counsel for the Department of Justice, and an anti-hate activist and former police officer. The event was attended by WSU public safety and law enforcement staff and other area law enforcement agency officials, including prosecutors.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, hate crimes in the United States rose in 2020 to the highest level in 12 years, with a significant increase in numbers of anti-Asian and anti-Black hate crimes. To address this increase, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act which increased spending on training and data collection and called on states to review crime reports for discrimination.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, which released updated data in March, “hate crimes reported to the bureau rose from more than 8,000 in 2020 to almost 11,000 in 2021. Nearly half of hate crime incidents were against Black, white and LGBTQ+ people. Crimes against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Sikhs and bisexual people more than doubled.”
In welcoming remarks President Linda Thompson thanked those attending and noted the importance of the program in relation to its location: “Westfield State University is known for its Criminal Justice Department. We are one of the first universities to have a department that focuses on criminal justice, and we have been leading this effort to develop people who can be leaders throughout the country. So, it is a fitting tribute to our CJ department for you to be here to learn about how to create safe communities. When I was growing up, I used to be afraid of police officers, that’s what I felt when I was a little girl, and now we are looking at ways that we can develop partnerships with communities in order to make our neighborhoods safe. Through this important work, we can all make a difference.”
The seven program modules included examining hate crime laws in Massachusetts, historical injustices and present policing, a review of hate crime statues and case examinations, impacts on communities, importance of data and finally a panel featuring families and victims of hate crimes.
“This program brought together university police officers and municipal police officers from several different departments from Massachusetts and Connecticut. This training provided a stronger understanding on the history of federal and state hate crime laws and the impact that hate crimes have on victims, survivors and their communities,” said Westfield State University Chief of Police, Tony Casciano.
The training was sponsored by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Meta, the technology conglomerate that owns Facebook among other products and services. The program was hosted by Cynthia M. Deitle, director and associate general counsel of the Civil Rights team at Meta. In 2017, Deitle retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a 22-year career specializing in the fields of civil rights, hate crimes, community outreach, and victims’ assistance.