Think Out Loud

Oregon hotline that responds to bias and hate has grown

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
April 13, 2023 4:39 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, April 13

Oregon’s Bias Response Hotline connects residents with trauma-informed advocates trained in crisis intervention. The hotline began in 2020, and now, three years later, the hotline’s staff has grown and an emergency fund exists to help people escape situations involving bias. The fund has helped people move away or remove hateful language from personal belongings. We check in with Fay Stetz-Waters, the director of Civil Rights and Social Justice for the Oregon Department of Justice.


Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. It’s been a little over three years since Oregon launched its Bias Response Hotline. The idea was to provide a way for Oregonians to report hate crimes and bias incidents. About 1100 people called the hotline in 2020. Last year, the number jumped to almost 2900, meaning nearly a threefold increase in just three years. Fay Stetz-Waters is director of the Civil Rights & Social Justice Office in the state’s Department of Justice. She joins us now to talk about the evolution of this hotline and the work ahead. Welcome back to Think Out Loud.

Fay Stetz-Waters: Thank you, Dave. It’s wonderful to be here. Thanks for inviting me back.

Miller: I noted that almost threefold increase in calls over the last three years. What do you think is behind that?

Stetz-Waters: Dave, I think it’s a number of things. First and foremost, I think it’s, we have had the ability to increase our capacity to respond to calls. As you know, in that first year, we had just one person answering the phone and 44% of our calls went to voicemail, hampering our attempts to connect with people who were reporting bias. In 2022, we were able to get an increase in funding from the legislature that helped us increase our staffing so that we can respond more timely, throughout the state, to people trying to report these bias crimes and bias incidents.

I also think that we have threefold, so the more people are aware of our service, the more people can call when things are happening. I also know that there are lots of events that are happening nationally, internationally, that have an impact here in our state. And then people behave in ways that we don’t expect and it results in a hate and hate crime or bias incident. So folks are contacting the hotline for support, to find out what they can do about what happened, [and] how they can shore up their security.

So there are a lot of reasons why we have increased in reporting, but I think it’s awareness. We do have an increase in the instances of these types of events around our state and people are reporting them to us, which is what we hope that they will continue to do.

Miller: Have the types of calls that you’re getting or maybe the way you can sort of group those calls, put them into different categories, have they changed in any significant ways or meaningful ways over the last three years? Are you seeing trends?

Stetz-Waters: We absolutely are seeing trends. If you follow things happening, happening in the national spotlight, they are reflected here, in our state. There’s been a lot of complaints and just disruption with our schools, our school boards, everything to do with education, nationally. And locally in our schools, we’re getting a lot of reports. Students fear reporting of what’s happening, they’re being bullied, being intimidated in schools. Teachers feel unprepared to respond with what’s happening in the classroom. I’ve gotten calls from parents who fear retaliation for their children in these settings. And so things like schools, public schools, private schools as well, libraries, our public spaces. Libraries, we get a lot of complaints, reports of bias occurring in our public libraries. Certainly the book ban movement has been challenging. Library employees have been harassed, have been called all kinds of horrible names. Our elected officials, from school board members to members of the legislature, have been harassed, have been victims of bias incidents and bias crimes. We’ve had flyering incidents around many communities. These types of incidents are reflected in our hotline data, on our dashboard. These are some trends that we’re seeing. They’ve changed as the news changes, these things are… events are reflected right here in our state and end up resulting in hate and bias on our hotline.

Miller: So I wanna make sure I understand one of the words, ‘a flyering incident.’ So meaning for example, putting a flyer with a swastika on someone’s windshield?


Stetz-Waters: Absolutely. Yeah, we’ve had that, we’ve had numerous communities in our state bombarded with these types of flyers, these hate flyers, anti-Semitic flyers, and whatever other hate flavor of the day. These have continued into 2023 and so many communities are experiencing this and they’re contacting the hotline, they’re contacting law enforcement. People have not experienced this type of hate before. We’ve had people report ziplock bags thrown into their driveways, filled with hate messages, encouraging people to go to websites. This is extremism. People seem radicalized and in doing these types of campaigns in our communities and our residents haven’t been exposed to this type of thing before. They don’t know what to do. And so we’re hoping the word gets out that when this type of thing happens in your community, that you feel comfortable contacting our hotline.

Miller: You mentioned that you got more funding which has enabled you to hire more staff. It went from $43,000 to $2 million after the legislature voted to really increase your program’s budget. What exactly have you been able to do with that extra money?

Stetz-Waters: We’ve been able to hire. The most important thing is we’ve been able to hire extra folks to be able to be on that hotline. These folks are co-located all around the state. And we’ve been lucky enough to be able to recruit from district attorney’s offices and community-based organizations who are already involved in victims assistance work. So these folks came to us, highly skilled, ready to work. And so we were able to hire those types of folks. We’ve been able to use that money for training. We did a statewide training for law enforcement last year. We intend to do more this fall.

Miller: What exactly are you focusing on in terms of trainings for law enforcement? What do you want, say, a sheriff’s deputy, or a police detective to know when it comes to investigating bias incidents or crimes?

Stetz-Waters: Well, we do have a data dashboard that has our information available with our data on it. So we hope that law enforcement will go ahead and look at that data dashboard to consider ways that they can look at the data that shows what’s happening in their community. We also have law enforcement units. We’d like them to know about our trauma informed approach. We’d like them to know about obvious symbols, language, trends, flyering campaigns that are happening in our community. So we just really want them to know about processes on the hotline, [about] what they can tell folks who may be experiencing bias crimes, what they can expect if they contact the hotline. So really loading them up with information about what our services are, [and] the limits of our service so they can share that information when they make that required mandatory referral to our hotline or to a local qualifying victims service.

Miller: How often have calls to the hotline led to criminal prosecutions?

Stetz-Waters: That’s a hard number. That’s a hard question to answer. As you know, prosecutions occur at the local level. They start in the district attorneys, they start with law enforcement investigating crime and making that referral to the prosecutor’s office. And so we know that there’s just kind of a funneling effect that happens in the time a case is referred -  if it’s investigated - it’s referred over to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor has discretion whether to prosecute that crime or not. And so we have a kind of a funneling effect. We have large numbers that are reported and a smaller number that get prosecuted.

Miller: Where do you see right now, the biggest room for improvement statewide in terms of responses to bias incidents?

Stetz-Waters: One of the things that we hear on the hotline is that often our hotline advocates are the first person to say that what happened to a person was wrong. So I think understanding the nature of the problem, showing empathy for a person who’s experienced hate and bias, without being dismissive. You can lay out what the limits of what you can do are, upfront, and having clear communication throughout the process with victims of crime. To let them know updates about the case. Being transparent about whether your decision to… what was the outcome of your investigation, timelines that they can expect communications to come from district attorney’s offices, and those kinds of things. I think improving our response so that people have more information upfront. And making sure there’s safety features in place so that people can safely report these things, and not have their information shared widely and not become another victim of crime.

Miller: Fay Stetz-Waters, thanks very much.

Stetz-Waters: Thank you.

Miller: Fay Stetz-Waters is the director of civil rights and social justice for the Oregon Department of Justice. She joined us to talk about the latest results from the state’s Bias Reporting Hotline which was set up a little more than three years ago.

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