- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Montgomery County officials yesterday backed off their assertions that an increase in hate crimes after September 11 was largely responsible for a 7 percent rise in overall crime in the county last year.
In response to questions from The Washington Times, a spokesman for County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the correlation between the county's hate crime increase and the rise in overall crime was "a little overstated."
"We saw troubling news in the increase in hate crimes, and we wanted to stand up and publicly denounce the acts of hate here and make another public appeal to folks to respect their neighbors in Montgomery County," David Weaver said.
Year-end crime statistics released by Montgomery County police last week show double-digit increases in the percentage of murders, robberies, auto thefts, arsons and drug offenses during 2000. Overall crime in the county was up 7 percent.
But it was news of the increase in hate crimes that dominated the announcement of the county's annual crime statistics, even though hate crimes were not included in the year-end report.
The jump, from 41 in 2000 to 97 in 2001 prompted Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, to say in a May 9 press release that the "significant spike in hate crimes following the September 11 attack on America boosted Montgomery County's overall crime rate."
In Montgomery County, 26 religion-inspired hate crimes were reported between September 11 and the end of the year, compared with 16 religion-inspired hate crimes before September 11. The county recorded 16 religion-inspired hate crimes in 2000.
Hate crimes based on ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation outnumbered those involving religion, rising from 39 in 2000 to 55 last year.
Also, roughly half of the hate crimes recorded by the county last year involved noncriminal offenses, according to Montgomery police.
David Baker, the hate-crimes coordinator for the department, said about 40 to 50 percent of the hate crimes recorded by the county last year involved noncriminal offenses, such as name calling or scratching an offensive word into a gravel driveway.
The department tracks noncriminal offenses for "intelligence" purposes, Mr. Baker said. It allows police to be proactive in sending conflict-resolution units into communities that show a high level of tension.
Most of the criminal acts, he said, were cases of vandalism or graffiti that "very, very rarely" lead to an arrest.
Only about 15 percent of hate-crime incidents involved face-to-face confrontations, Mr. Baker estimated, and most of those originated as arguments over grocery store lines, fender benders and parking spaces that escalated into racial or religious taunts.
"It goes all ways," Mr. Baker said. "Black against white, white against black. I think the Latino community has a lot that go unreported."
He also said there has been a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes reported during the last year and a half.
Mr. Baker said that the rise in hate crimes last year was isolated and is largely under control, adding that there had only been about one or two reports of hate crimes against Muslims in the past six months.
"By the end of October, our events were down to almost nothing," Mr. Baker said.
Examples of hate crimes last year range from an obscenity-laced racially insulting anonymous phone call that a black woman received, to an anti-Semitic note left in the locker of a Jewish middle school student, to a physical assault on a Hispanic man by a black man outside a beer store.
Asked if he felt the hate crimes were related to an overall crime rate in the county, Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews said, "I think unless we have evidence they are linked, I would say no."
"The increase you see in robberies or auto thefts is certainly much greater," Mr. Andrews said. "The difference between these two numbers is much more than the increase in hate crimes, so I think they are two separate issues."
Mr. Andrews, a Democrat who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the crime increase over so many categories was "certainly a cause of concern," but he urged caution in interpreting one year's statistics as a trend.
County Council member Nancy Dacek, who sits on the Council's Public Safety Committee, said it was "a little surprising" that county officials would link the hate crimes to an increase in overall crime.
"When you're talking murders, I don't know," said Mrs. Dacek, a Republican. A victim of auto theft last year, she said she is "not alarmed yet" in the rise in crime, pointing to a downward trend in the county for most of the past decade.
"We really have been decreasing over the years while our population goes up exponentially," she said.
University of Maryland criminology professor Gary LaFree said an optimistic examination of hate crimes could simply be that more people are reporting the incidents and police are being more thorough in their investigations..
He said other indicators of crime, such as homicides, robberies and auto thefts, are bellwethers that could be "troublesome" if they continue to increase.
"What's interesting about crime trends is they tend to have resilience," he said. "They tend to go in one direction for a while."


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