No hate crimes reported at USF

FBI statistics indicate that Tampa has the greatest number of hate crimes in the state, but that USF doesn’t follow that trend.

USF has not had a hate crime since 2004 and Tampa’s high number may have more to do with reporting than with actual crimes, though University Police is still vigilant in preventing them.

Tampa had 13 hate crimes during 2007, according to the report, while USF had none. Spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department Andrea Davis said the difference between the lack of hate crimes reported to UP and those reported in Tampa may come from Tampa Police’s zero tolerance policy for hate crimes.

“We are very aggressive. We report anything that is possible or borderline. If it’s a borderline case, we are going to report it as a hate crime,” Davis said. “We investigated 13 crimes that we thought fit the descriptions of having evidence of some type of prejudice based on race, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity.”

UP Spokeswoman Meg Ross said, however, that UP takes special precautions to prevent hate crimes.

“It’s always something that we want to work towards preventing, but different things can bring about different responses in people,” Ross said.

Anytime a speaker at the University may “present a volatile environment,” Ross said UP works with Tampa Police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to asses to potential for a protest or any other situation that make hate crimes more likely.

USF’s lack of reported hate crimes might also be because it’s a more open, collegiate environment.

“You could say that everyone’s here to break down barriers and be more open to diversity,” Ross said.

Tracy Mishler, a community service officer in crime prevention for the Temple Terrace Police Department, said the comparatively high number of hate crimes in Tampa might be due to underreporting in other areas.

“A lot of times officers may not ask the right questions or may not determine it’s a hate crime because they forgot to,” Mishler said. “I think here in Florida we try to do a good job in teaching officers, especially in the Tampa Bay area, about hate crimes.”

According to the 2008 Florida State Statutes, a hate crime is a crime committed based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation or national origin.

“If I rob you on the street, that’s just a robbery. But if I rob you because you are a certain race, color or creed, then that would be considered a hate crime,” Mishler said. “So if you have a robbery and it’s a second degree felony, now it becomes a first degree felony because it’s considered a hate crime.”

Ross said, however, that the definition of a hate crime is really just an augmentation of an already committed crime.

“There is no per se hate crime. It’s that if you commit this crime evidencing prejudice while you do it, the penalty will be enhanced,” she said.

Richard Spencer a freshman majoring in computer science, doesn’t think USF needs to worry about hate crime.

“I haven’t heard of any hate crimes on campus,” Spencer said. “I think it is a problem, but it doesn’t really concern me.”

Davis said either way, one hate crime is too many.

“Is it a trend? Is it a problem around USF? Probably not,” she said.