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City of San Luis Obispo experienced the most reported hate crime events in the county, report shows

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Posted at 6:27 PM, Aug 08, 2023

A report published by the California Department of Justice showed that the City of San Luis Obispo had the highest rate of hate crime events in San Luis Obispo County in 2022. 13 of the 21 total incidents were reported in the city.

The same report found that 17 hate crime events were reported in Santa Barbara County in 2022, only one of which was reported in the City of Santa Barbara, and three of which were reported in Santa Maria.

A wider trend across California shows that reported hate crime events increased 20.2 percent between 2021 and 2022, from 1,763 in 2021 to 2,120 in 2022.

While not considered a hate crime, three recent instances in which banners with white supremacist rhetoric were displayed across the county have been widely condemned, including by San Luis Obispo Mayor Erica Stewart, who described them as “racist hate speech” which did “not represent the city of San Luis Obispo.”

Los Osos resident Karin Smith said, “I've always felt [San Luis Obispo] to be a welcoming space, so the fact that people went out of their way to wear the shirts or something that said 'White Lives Matter' kind of bothered me because I didn't see this to be an area that would be like that. I consider it a welcoming place.”

When contacted, the City of San Luis Obispo reaffirmed that “the City of San Luis Obispo values diversity and firmly stands against hate, bigotry, and discrimination” and that they “envision a San Luis Obispo that is welcoming, inclusive, and safe.”

Initiatives by the city include the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which attempts to offer advice and support for the furthering of equality and inclusion within the City of San Luis Obispo, including the use of a task force to evaluate the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the city and recommend allocating funds to community organizations.

When asked about data showing the City of San Luis Obispo to have had the greatest number of reported hate crime events in 2022, city officials responded in a statement, saying, “The San Luis Obispo Police Department has been and continues to be very proactive in documenting not only hate crimes but hate expression. Being that we are the largest City in the County, coupled with our policy of investigating and documenting all reported cases of hate crime and hate expression, we would expect to see a larger number being reported than some of our smaller cities in the County.”

“We partner very closely with our marginalized communities to provide support, build trust, and promote confidence in the police, so if an incident is reported we will work to provide support and follow-up quickly,” they added.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office offered similar sentiments, saying in a statement that the office “takes all reports of hate incidents seriously.”

“At the same time, we are mindful of respecting those rights which are derived from the First Amendment. If that speech devolves into a hate crime, then we would take immediate action," the statement continued. "The Sheriff’s Office is not aware of any ‘active’ hate groups in the county. There are always going to be incidents which could fit into the mold of being a hate crime. However, they are usually isolated incidents and typically not carried out as a group.”

Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which seeks to provide support for marginalized groups, worry that published data may represent only a portion of actual hate crime events due to underreporting.

“I think that people don't know how to report an incident. I think they might be scared of retaliation. They might not have access to the technology that would enable them to try to track or report an incident, so we definitely believe that they are unfortunately underreported, which is quite scary when we look at the large number of incidents that are reported,” said Ashley Myers, ADL Assistant Regional Director.


Resources are available to those who have experienced or know someone who has experienced a hate crime or hate expression.

The City of San Luis Obispo's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion includes a form for those who wish to anonymously report a hate incident or hate crime, which can be found here.

Local advocacy groups include the Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo County and the Gala Pride and Diversity Center.

The SLO Legal Assistance Foundation provides legal services and resources to those in need.

The Anti-Defamation League offers regional support for Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties.

California offers a hotline that allows individuals to report a hate crime or hate incident and speak with a trained “care coordinator,” which can be accessed by calling (833) 866 4283 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (except holidays).