The number of hate crimes reported to Aurora police nearly tripled from 2015 to 2016, rising from 12 incidents in 2015 to 33 last year, according to the Aurora Police Department. Bias-motivated crimes reported to APD had grown about 60 percent from 2014 to 2015—from seven to 12 incidents—in numbers obtained from the department.

Meanwhile, hate crimes reported to Denver police rose from 23 in 2015 to 27 in 2016, and the number of hate crimes reported in Colorado climbed only slightly from 2014 to 2015 (statewide figures for 2016 have not been released).

Aurora is one of the most diverse cities in Colorado. In 2016, the city’s makeup was 46 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic or Latino, 16 percent African-American, and 5 percent Asian, according to the city’s annual demographic report. About one-fifth of residents are foreign-born, representing countries like Mexico, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Korea, and many others. Aurora’s population is about 353,000.

5280 obtained documentation on 17 hate crimes reported to Aurora police between Sept. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 via a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request. Most of the documents we reviewed recalled incidents that appeared to be racially motivated. Of the 17 incidents, six involved possible anti-black bias, four involved possible anti-Hispanic/Latino bias, two involved possible bias against individuals perceived to be Middle Eastern, and three involved possible bias based on the victim’s sexual orientation and/or gender.

Scott Levin, mountain states regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that tracks incidents of anti-Semitism and other bias-motivated crimes, says his organization has seen an increase in reports of these types of incidents across Colorado and Wyoming over the last year. He believes the numbers coming out of Aurora could be indicative of a broader trend.

“There is an indication, I think, of the general culture we’re finding ourselves in right now, which is, unfortunately, people feeling emboldened to do very hateful things,” Levin says.

Diana Higuera, executive director of the Aurora Welcome Center, said the population her organization works with—immigrants and refugees of both undocumented and documented status—are feeling increasingly fearful after the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

“We’re hearing more and more that people are afraid to go out,” Higuera says. “Especially people that you can notice are not from here. If they’re Muslim and they’re covered [wearing a hijab] they’re afraid someone is going to tell them something.”

Some of the police reports obtained by 5280 show that this fear might be well-founded. On January 26, APD responded to a call made from the Jiffy Lube on Iliff Avenue in Aurora. An irate woman allegedly shouted at a fellow customer who she perceived to be Middle Eastern, calling him a terrorist and telling him to go back to his own country and blow himself up.

On October 24, APD responded to a call from an Aurora residence near Cherry Creek State Park. The caller, who is of Latin descent, claimed she was being harassed by her neighbor. Anytime she or her Spanish-speaking husband were outside, the woman said her neighbor would make comments such as, “Why do you hate America?” “Where is your Green Card?” and “I’m going to call ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] on your family.”

Other reported crimes included threats of racially motivated violence toward black people and the use of racial slurs in altercations that drew police intervention.

APD spokesperson Crystal McCoy said the department does not know the cause or causes behind the increase in reporting these crimes. But she speculated that outreach efforts by APD to ingrain itself into minority communities might be a contributing factor to increased reporting.

“It’s truly hypothetical—I’ll never know why the crime is [committed], but I will tell you this: We spend a lot of time reaching out to the community, especially the diverse community that we have, the Hispanic community, the Muslim community, the African American community,” McCoy says. “We spend a lot of time reaching out to them to build trust and confidence that they can come and report. I think we are experiencing some success in that route.”

Higuera said she has also observed increased engagement between Aurora residents and APD.

“Anytime we put on a night to talk about our rights, what the rights of the immigrants and refugees are in general, they come and talk to the population,” Higuera says. “They respond to all the very hard questions. They’ve also been very out front and vocal about saying they’re not going to do the job of ICE.”

APD pointed 5280 to its Initiatives for Enhancing Community Relations report on the department’s internal reorganization, introduction of an Internal Review Board, and increased community outreach, but would not respond to requests for further information on their outreach efforts and guiding policies. Department sergeants and Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz declined 5280’s requests for comment. APD also did not respond to 5280’s request for an updated figure of reported hate crimes since January 2017.

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.