The FBI launched a nationwide effort to increase public awareness of hate crimes. 

New billboards in are up in Phoenix and Yuma urging people to report hate crimes to law enforcement.

The Phoenix field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is participating in a nationwide effort to increase public awareness of hate crimes.

“We know that, historically, hate crimes are underreported,” the FBI said in a press release. “To help our community recognize the importance of the issue and to encourage people to report incidents to law enforcement, the FBI in Phoenix is launching a hate crimes awareness campaign throughout the state.”

A hate crime is defined as a violent criminal act against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. The FBI asks people to report potential federal hate crime violations by contacting 1-800-CALL-FBI or tips.fbi.gov.

The billboards are just one way the FBI is getting the word out. The bureau also took out several radio, social media and newspaper web ads — even ads at the Tucson International and Flagstaff Pulliam airports. The local campaign launched Oct. 1.

According to a recent report, the FBI recorded the largest number of hate crimes last year since 2008, and the Jewish community was once again a top target of religiously motivated crimes.

Of the 1,174 religiously motivated hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2020, anti-Jewish hate crimes accounted for 57%. The number of anti-Jewish incidents decreased last year relative to 2019, but still made up the majority of hate crimes based on religion. The majority of incidents targeted individuals directly; 53% involved vandalism or property destruction, 33% involved intimidation and 10% entailed either simple or aggravated assault.

The FBI recorded 19 anti-Jewish hate crimes in Arizona, which has averaged 20 anti-Jewish hate crimes per year for the last decade, according to Carlos Galindo-Elvira, director of community engagement and partnerships at Chicanos Por La Causa. Galindo-Elvira previously served as the director of the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona.

Speaking to the local Jewish community in June, special agent Dan Johnson of the Phoenix FBI urged people to report any red flags or concerns.

“There is nothing wrong with communicating your anxiety, your concern about a person to me or my colleagues,” Johnson said.

One of the most important ways law enforcement confronts extremism is by building relationships in communities.

A primary part of Johnson’s job is meeting new people and raising awareness about what a hate crime is, so people can identify if they’ve witnessed one or been a victim of one — and, most importantly, notify him or others in law enforcement.

The FBI has studied those who’ve committed “the most heinous acts” and found what “behavioral conditions were present in them before they acted,” Johnson said. A lot of these things were seen by the people around them. “If something appears threatening it might be a threat and we’re the ones who will be in the best place to know,” he said. JN