Easthampton has updated its Hate Crimes Policy as part of its efforts to protect the public amid increasingly hateful rhetoric and incidents locally and around the world.

With war raging abroad and hate crimes increasing nationally, Easthampton recently updated its Hate Crimes Policy to improve public safety, promote inclusivity, and provide greater clarity around its investigation processes and community outreach.

Easthampton had been periodically revising its policy after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, according to Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, and to reflect court rulings. But given concerns about white supremacists locally, and increased antisemitic and Islamophobic activity after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the city further refined its policy and released it in November.

“We felt like we really needed to [update the policy] and get that out to the public,” LaChapelle said. “And send a very clear signal that hate has never been tolerated in Easthampton, and it is not an antiquated, definitional approach. It is top of mind, and with the most current information possible.”

The country has seen alarming increases in hate crimes recently. Citing federal statistics, the Anti-Defamation League said Massachusetts had 412 hate crimes in 2021, a 33% jump over the previous year. The country saw a 38% increase in white supremacy propaganda efforts from 2021 to 2022, with Massachusetts ranking second in propaganda activity, after Texas, according to the ADL. The state also saw a 41% increase in antisemitic incidents over that period, with 71 municipalities experiencing at least one incident.

Easthampton has seen white supremacist activity, including “some really discouraging, disgusting rumors” on social media and a white supremacist group leafleting in a neighborhood, LaChapelle said.

Easthampton reviewed the policies from Northampton, Holyoke and Cambridge as part of its update process, LaChapelle said. Officials worked with the city attorney and relied on the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups for information.

“We did not want this policy to be aspirational,” LaChapelle said. “We wanted this policy to be hands-on, written, issued and on the streets.”

The policy details how police need to collect and document evidence and move a case up the chain of command. It emphasizes the need to gather evidence, including hate literature, spray paint cans, and symbolic objects; instructs investigators to record suspect statements verbatim (“Exact language is critical”); calls for officer training on hate crimes; and elaborates on the role of the department’s civil rights liaison.

After an incident, the city expects police to place the alleged crime in context, by identifying any previous incidents in the same area, or against the same victim; identifying patterns, or hate groups potentially involved; familiarizing themselves with local hate groups; and complying with state and federal hate crime data collection and reporting requirements.

Easthampton’s policy also emphasizes community outreach and hate crime prevention, including engaging the media and communicating with community organizations, religious institutions, neighborhood groups and residents in targeted communities; identifying sources of support for victims; keeping victims updated; and arranging for translators if necessary. The policy encourages public forums to address hate crimes and violence generally, and, where appropriate, expanded prevention programs in schools.

“This revised policy reflects our dedication to fostering a community where everyone feels secure, regardless of background,” Police Chief Robert Alberti said in a statement about the policy.

LaChapelle said the update builds on work already underway to improve interaction and trust between first responders and residents. Two years ago, the city contracted with Clinical & Support Options to have a social worker co-responding to incidents with the police, and last year, the city paired that with a community social worker and a public health nurse to support victims, she said. The work also inspired the police department to write a separate grant for a staff therapist, she said, to support first responders who face these difficult situations.

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