Columbus’ Human Rights Commission is offering a new web portal for residents to report incidents of racial bias or hate-induced crime.

The portal is on the commission’s web page on the City of Columbus website and offers the opportunity for individuals to communicate in English, but also offers options to report in Spanish, with other languages to become available soon. And reports can be anonymous.

The commission is offering the portal not as the city’s formal human rights commission complaint process, documented steps that are followed to investigate complaints, but rather as a way to gather information about the tenor of Columbus’ inclusiveness and acceptance, and in response to Indiana’s lack of a specific hate-crime law, said Aida Ramirez, commission director.

The idea behind having the portal is to gather data about just how much Columbus might be affected by nationwide uncertainty and rhetoric about race relations, immigration status, refugees and other issues.

The data being collected from the portal will be used to ascertain if what is being reported locally is from a national standpoint or specific to Columbus, Ramirez said. Bias incidents will be reported in monthly commissioner meetings at City Hall.

The information will also be evaluated to determine if it rises to the level of a need for a formal complaint, or whether a police report is warranted, she said.

Statistical information regarding hate crimes and bias incidents is being gathered by Indiana law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and community-based organizations.

Having the web portal isn’t groundbreaking, Ramirez said. Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have had the online hate-crime tracking capability for years.

However, the local commission is working to become more tech-friendly, hoping to offer an online complaint intake process sometime in the future for people who are unable to contact the city department during working hours, Ramirez said. The commission has implemented online registration and payment for its annual dinner meeting, and other technological upgrades are being considered.

The new portal is so new that few people even know about it yet, but Ramirez hopes that the data and information the city receives will provide a litmus test of just how welcoming the community of Columbus is.

“This is going to be a bridge to conversation about inclusion and diversity,” she said. “We want to be able to bridge that gap and become comfortable with talking about the uncomfortable.”

How to file discrimination reports

The Columbus Human Rights Commission assists individuals who believe they have been discriminated against in the city of Columbus.

The law requires that a complaint be filed within a specific amount of time. This requirement varies depending upon the alleged discrimination and by agency.

To receive assistance from a staff member, call, e-mail or visit the commission office in City Hall. Staff members will conduct an initial intake to get basic information about the alleged discrimination.

If a fact-specific situation is within the commission’s jurisdiction, a formal complaint may be filed within the office. In certain circumstances, the commission may recommend a referral to an attorney or another agency.

Contact information

Human Rights Commission

123 Washington St.

Columbus, Indiana 47201

Phone: 812-376-2532

TDD: 711

Fax: 812-375-2752

Email: humanrights@columbus.in.gov

Website: columbus.in.gov/human-rights/

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.