ProPublica: Hate crimes data

Ken Schwencke filed this request with the Madison Police Department of Madison, WI.


From: Ken Schwencke

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to Wisconsin's Open Records act, I hereby request the following records:

Any database or other records of hate crimes or crimes evidencing bias of race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin or disability reported to or investigated by your agency since Jan. 1, 2010, containing at least the following fields:

the incident number
date of the incident
whether the crime was against individuals or a business / property
number of victims
race or ethnicity of the victims
gender of the victims
the offense classification
the location of the incident
the bias motivation (anti-black, anti-muslim, etc)

I would like the records in a machine-readable, electronic format if possible. If the records are kept in another format, or kept individually, I would still like copies.

This request is made as part of the Documenting Hate Project, a collaboration involving dozens of news organizations, led by ProPublica. Coverage from the project is compiled at

This request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I would request your response within ten (10) business days.


Ken Schwencke

From: Radovan, John

Mr. Schwencke,

I'm responding to the records request you made to the Madison Police Department on August 4, 2017 through Muckrock looking for a database or other records of hate crime-type incidents reported to or investigated by our agency since January 1, 2010, containing at least the following fields- incident number, incident date, whether crime was against individuals or a business or property, number of victims, race or ethnicity of the victims, gender of the victims, the offense classification, location of the incident, and the bias motivation.

Under the Wisconsin Public Records Laws, records custodians must carefully weigh the competing public interests involved when deciding to release any record in their possession. Custodians begin with a presumption of complete public access to such records. However, custodians must consider whether inspection of the record could result in harm to the public interest that would outweigh the benefits of such inspections. When such harm substantially outweighs the benefits of public inspection, such records or portions thereof, must remain confidential.

After consideration I have decided to release the records you requested with redactions. The attached spreadsheet with data is our response and is pulled from our records management system. The only information redacted in the spreadsheet is address of occurrence, which is redacted to the 100 block. We do that as a matter of routine to protect the reputation of individuals living or working at those addresses.

In looking over the data I feel it is important to let you know how it was entered into our system. When an officer is completing an incident report, part of that process includes selecting appropriate entries from drop-down menus. If they indicate a criminal offense occurred they also must make an entry from another drop-down menu over whether there was a bias motivation involved. The entries on the spreadsheet being released are from when the officer has selected something from the bias field other than "None". That is the only way to respond to your request. Unfortunately there is no vetting done on whether the officer's selection in that regard was correct, or that the investigation leading them to selecting that bias means they would have enough proof to merit a criminal charge of the Hate Crime Enhancer.

The search for victim information required that suspect information be included in the response, which has not been taken out in the response to you. Also note that oftentimes there are multiples lines for a case number.

With this response I am closing this records request. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Lieutenant John Radovan
Records Custodian
City of Madison Police Department
(608) 266-6068

From: Radovan, John

Mr. Schwencke,

After sending this we had more discussion internally and felt the way these bias numbers are computed (based on the officer's feeling of a bias) leads to incorrect numbers, as many times an officer will say there was a bias but it wouldn't rise to the level of a hate crime. To clear that up, which is more important now with current events and an increase in such requests to us, our Records staff went through the spreadsheet I sent you and did analysis over whether there was actually enough of a bias in the incident to lead to a hate crime charge. That analysis ended up whittling down the spreadsheet to what I am sending to you know. There are cases where we felt there was enough of a bias element present to merit a hate crime charge.

One thing you will see in that spreadsheet is there is no data entries from 2010-2012. We changed over to a new records management system in late 2012 and the thought from our technical people is that the hate crime info was entered into the old system slightly differently so it did not transfer over correctly to the new system. I am not a tech person and that is how it was explained to me.

Lieutenant John Radovan
Records Custodian
City of Madison Police Department
(608) 266-6068

From: Ken Schwencke

Hi John,

Thanks so much, and sorry I'm just getting back to you. I left you a voicemail earlier today, but just wanted to shoot an email your way with my contact information. Would love to talk a bit more about the way the reports were classified.

Thanks again,
Ken Schwencke
w: 917-512-0253
c: 561-756-6135