With reported hate crimes up in Los Angeles County and a growing national focus on the issue, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said Thursday that he wants to substantially expand his office's tiny unit that prosecutes those offenses.
"I'm asking for more specially trained hate crime prosecutors to handle these cases," Garcetti told dozens of law enforcement representatives and community activists at a hate crime summit.
"These hate crime prosecutors," Garcetti said, "will also work with communities and all law enforcement in L.A. County to encourage the understanding and reporting of hate crimes, with a focus on juveniles, to prevent escalation of the violence."
Garcetti's remarks were made at the second of three meetings that the county Commission on Human Relations is holding on hate crimes, which jumped 25% countywide in 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
The district attorney's office has only one deputy, Carla Arranaga, specifically assigned to hate crimes. Garcetti would like to add five deputies, as well as an investigator and a secretary.
"We know we're asking for more money," Garcetti spokeswoman Victoria Pipkin said, estimating that the additional staffing would cost about $500,000. "But in the long run, it will be well spent."
Last year the district attorney's office handled 244 hate crime cases, more than half of which involved juvenile defendants.
At Thursday's meeting, held at the Sheriff's Academy, county Sheriff Sherman Block also discussed the formalization of his department's hate crime policies and efforts to broaden community prevention work.
Traditionally underreported, hate crimes have received more attention from legislators and law enforcement authorities in recent years, which has in turn increased public awareness.
Officials attributed much of the county's 1996 rise in hate crimes--from 793 the previous year to 995--to victims' growing willingness to report incidents that can be particularly personal and humiliating.