BISMARCK — Across North Dakota, the number of reported hate crimes is starting to go down, as the number dropped from 38 in 2015, to 18 in 2019.

However, Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, said the number may be higher than what's out there.

"The unfortunate thing is that if it's not an experience that we ourselves experience, then we oftentimes tend to think it doesn't exist," she said during a meeting with the House Judiciary Committee Monday, Feb. 8.

Buffalo has drafted a bill for police to make a system to collect information related to a bias crime, which also calls for the Peace Officer Standards and Training board to create a training program that teaches the difference between hate crimes and regular crimes.

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Supporters of the bill, like Wess Philome of Fargo, argue this would lead to a better community if it's passed.

"This law would make me feel a lot safer about my safety and my wife's safety, and those in the community as well from people who are motivated by hate," Philome said, adding that Fargo police are investigating three death threats sent to him.

Along with reporting the bias, the bill also shows police would have to take motivation of the crime into account as well, which is a sticking point for those who aren't in favor of the bill.

"Why is it worse to kill someone because of the color of their skin versus the color of their shirt," said Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck. "I mean, you've killed someone. It's murder."

Mark Jorritsma, the executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota, also testified against the bill, saying it also could take away free speech rights.

"Based on this bill, I would have to infer on their intent was of making a Polish joke," Jorritsma said, citing a specific example in his testimony. "Was it meant to intimidate me or not? I have no idea."

Whether something's meant as a joke or a threat, officers say they'll take any action to slow hate, no matter if the bill passes or fails.