ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – There are some big changes as to how the Arlington Police Department is now handling hate incidents and crimes.

During a morning press conference Chief Will Johnson explained that the department has expanded it’s hate and bias crime reporting policy and now has more tools to document, track and investigate bias-based acts.

According to Johnson, the underreporting of hate crimes is an issue facing communities across the country.

“A hate incident quite simply is a hate-filled act or a bias act that may not rise to the level of criminality, but we all know that those hate incidents cause as much or equal harm in the community for those that that hate is directed toward,” he said.

By documenting and tracking incidents investigators may be able to recognize repeat behavior, identify perpetrators and prevent future acts. Chief Johnson said “many times there’s an escalation of rhetoric or acts” that not only threatens victims in the present but “may transition from hate incidents to hate crimes”.

When asked about 1st Amendment rights versus a violation of civil rights Johnson said, “Free speech is not an absolute right. We want to make sure that in the exercising of your rights, whatever rights those may be, that they don’t compromise or erode somebody else’s rights.”

The Chief said goal of the new system is to not only address more underreported crimes but to show the community that the department cares. “We need, collectively as an entire community, to send a message that bias-based acts are not to be tolerated,” he said. “We’re making sure that we are not only projecting that it’s important, but we’re demonstrating that through our actions.”

The policy says that “a swift and strong response by law enforcement can help stabilize and calm the community and serve as a declaration that hate/bias crimes are taken seriously” and that’s what the Arlington Police Department says they’re doing.