New policy aims to curb rise in hate crimes

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Monday a new plan to crack down on hate crimes in the area. The new policy comes after Ozanne's office saw an increase in hate crimes both nationally and locally.

"It appeared almost as though some people felt that they were given a green light to engage in this sort of behavior," Ozanne said.

Ozanne said he wants the community to know he takes these crimes seriously.

"Hate is not acceptable," he said. "We need to address it when we see it, as soon as we see it."

The DA's office already prosecutes hate crimes, but the new policy will create clear guidelines for what can be charged as one.

"We are seeking justice for individual victims and for our community," Ozanne explained.

The new policy also emphasizes hate crimes training for staff and creates a Hate Crimes Action Team to consult with prosecutors.

Alan Klugman, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Madison, said the rise in hate crimes is alarming and has hit the Jewish community hard.

"We enjoyed a sense of tolerance and security that we're now questioning," Klugman said.

However, action from officials, including the DA's new policy, is reassuring.

"It lets people know in a serious, formal way that our officials, our government officials are not going to stand by," Klugman explained.

Klugman hopes individuals in the community also embrace the ideas behind the policy.

"I think we can all demonstrate that we stand on the side of tolerance," he said.

For Ozanne, he hopes his office's new policy can serve as an example.

"This should be something that we should hopefully see throughout the nation and other local communities so that basically all members of every community feel welcome, safe and protected," Ozanne said.

With this new policy, the DA's office can now track the number of hate incidents. The office defines hate incidents as hateful behaviors or language that cannot be charged as a hate crime.

The first set of numbers from that tracking should be available in the first quarter of 2020.