San Jose police launch 'SAFE PLACE' initiative to combat hate crimes

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Police officers in the Bay Area's largest city announced their new "SAFE PLACE" initiative Thursday to help combat the rise in hate crimes.

"We know it can be difficult for victims of hate crimes or hate incidents to come forward," said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia. "I hope that if someone is unfortunately victimized by hate they know that the police department and the community are here to support them."

"SAFE PLACE" is a nationally recognized program that aims to create partnerships between police departments, local businesses and organizations. Participants place a rainbow-colored decal at the entrance to their location, signaling that any hate crime victim can come in for assistance. Employees are trained to call police on their behalf and allow them to safely remain at the location until help arrives.

As part of the launch, all Starbucks Coffee locations in San Jose have agreed to participate, according to Tim Dubenko, the company's regional director of operations.

The "SAFE PLACE" initiative "aligns with our company's values and mission, which is to embrace diversity, create a welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment for everyone," said Dubenko.

Police say Wells Fargo's 25 branch locations across the city have also signed up to be a part of the program.

"Hate is an equal opportunity form of violence and the fact that business and the police are working together to address the problem is significant," says Wiggsy Sivertson, who serves on the police department's LGBTQ advisory board.

"SAFE PLACE" was created by the Seattle Police Department in 2015 to originally combat anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, but is now used to address all types of hate crimes and hate incidents.

In 2016, 19 hate crimes cases were reported to the San Jose Police Department. The number spiked to 45 in 2017, before dropping to 37 the following year. So far in 2019, at least 19 incidents have been documented.

For reporting purposes, police officials say a hate crime is defined as "any criminal act or attempted act intended to frighten, harm, injure, intimidate or harass an individual, in whole or in part, because of the victim's actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation."

"People who might consider spreading hate should take notice that this community has banded together and San Jose is not a safe haven for your bigotry," said Chief Garcia.

Businesses and organizations that are interested in applying for the program can click here for more information.
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