Reversing a six-year down trend, anti-Semitic vandalism increased 121% in California last year, more than anywhere else in the nation, according to the annual survey by the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith. Most of the incidents occurred in Southern California.
Los Angeles police blamed a number of the local incidents, which did not include any physical violence, on a small gang of "skinheads" in the San Fernando Valley and on subsequent copycat acts by others.
There were 137 anti-Semitic cases reported last year statewide, a 121% increase over the 62 cases reported the year before. Of those, 124 occurred in Southern California, according to the survey, which was released Tuesday at a press conference at Los Angeles police headquarters.
Nationally, there were 694 acts of vandalism reported, the first upturn in such statistics since 1984. New York had the highest number, with 207, but California registered the highest increase over the previous year.
While league officials called for stiffer laws, increased security and more public education to combat the problem, police were less than optimistic about the prospects for change.
"We are dealing with a bunch of nuts out there, and such things have little effect on that kind of behavior," Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said.
He added that there have been stepped-up police patrols of temples, businesses and homes in vulnerable neighborhoods, but that "hate crimes are the most difficult for police to deal with."
"They are done in the dead of night . . . they are diabolical and extremely dangerous," he said.
Los Angeles police statistics show that between June, 1987, and mid-January, 130 racially motivated incidents have occurred in the city. Of those, 38% were anti-white, 26% anti-Semitic, 13% anti-black, 6% anti-Latino and 1% anti-Asian, Gates said. The targets of the remaining 16% were not listed.
The young neo-Nazi skinhead groups, which espouse white supremacy, were thought to have been responsible for a flurry of synagogue desecrations that took place in the San Fernando Valley last year. One suspect has been charged in one of the attacks.
The skinheads, who have also been accused of similar acts in San Diego, Chicago and Miami, originated in Great Britain. The skinheads, who are thought to number only several hundred in this country, have their own "white power" music and often wear tattoos, shaved heads, combat boots and clothing adorned with swastikas.
The league survey showed that police across the nation arrested 78 suspects in anti-Semitic crimes, compared to 57 arrests the previous year. Nearly 22% of those arrested were 21 years or older, the highest percentage noted in any of the league surveys. Officials are concerned that this may indicate that older white supremacist groups may be joining forces with the skinheads, said David A. Lehrer, regional director of the group.
The survey, which was based on reports gathered by regional offices, noted that besides the vandalism, there were an additional 324 incidents nationally of assaults, threats and harassments against Jews and Jewish institutions, including hate mail and telephone threats, about the same amount as in the past three years. While there were 16 cases of physical attacks reported nationally, there were none in California.
After New York and California, the following states reported the most incidents of vandalism: Florida, 64; New Jersey, 43; Illinois, 36; Massachusetts, 27; Maryland, 23; Pennsylvania, 22; Georgia, 15, and Michigan, 14.
The Anti-Defamation League is sponsoring conferences and distributing books on how the Jewish community can protect synagogues and other Jewish institutions. It has also provided schools with educational materials for teens.