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Panel OKs Changes to Help Police Crack Down on Hate Crime

Bias: Better identification of such incidents and tougher enforcement are goals of task force's recommendations.

November 11, 1998|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the face of statistics that suggest an uptick in local hate crimes, the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday adopted a set of recommendations aimed at improving the way police identify and investigate those offenses.

Speaking at a news conference held at the LAPD's downtown headquarters, police commissioners, prosecutors and city and community leaders hailed the "sweeping changes," saying that they will make Los Angeles a national leader in investigating and prosecuting such crimes.

The commission's action follows recent, highly publicized hate crimes against a young gay man in Wyoming and a black man in Texas, both of whom were beaten to death.

"The recommendations put forth today make it clear that Angelenos have no tolerance for crimes motivated by hatred or bias of any kind," Mayor Richard Riordan said at the news conference. "To those who would commit hate crimes, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted."

Over the past five years, the LAPD has investigated about 490 hate crimes a year. Most of them were motivated by hatred of race, followed by sexual orientation and religion, according to LAPD statistics. Police officials project that by the end of this year there will have been 516 hate crimes, up from 434 in 1997.

Even as the commission approved the recommendations, police officials disclosed that a burned cross about 18 inches tall had been found in front of an African American woman's home in Lancaster.

The new procedures--proposed by a special Police Commission task force after 13 months of work--seek to improve the quality of cases presented for prosecution under anti-hate crime statutes.

In addition to pursuing hate crime cases in state courts, the new procedures mandate that all cases be forwarded to the U.S. attorney's office for review. In some cases, misdemeanor offenses in state court can be prosecuted as felonies in federal court, task force members said.

The Police Commission's action Tuesday updates and expands on the LAPD's 1989 definition of hatred incidents and protected groups. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks said he will issue the new order within days.

The commission also ordered the department to use computer programs to improve tracking the crimes and identifying trends. And the commission requested that the City Council increase the $500 reward given to people who provide information on hate crimes.

Commissioner Dean Hansell, who chaired the Hate Crimes Task Force, said the recommendations also call for new training programs to teach officers precisely what hate crimes are, what motivates such crimes and who commits them. The new training will cover how officers are expected to respond to and investigate hate crime incidents.

"When a person or property is victimized because of bias, it is a crime against the entire community," Hansell said. "Hate crimes and hatred incidents attack the sensibilities of a civilized society and must not be tolerated."

According to police, a hate crime is any criminal act or attempted criminal act directed against a person or group or property based on the victim's actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender. A hatred incident is a noncriminal act, such as putting racist fliers on parked cars or verbal threats.

The commission's Hate Crimes Task Force included representatives from the Police Department, district attorney's office, city attorney's office, county and city human relations commissions and community organizations, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti called the task force's work "cutting edge." He said his office prosecuted 255 hate crime cases last year involving 328 offenders.

Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and a task force member, called hate crimes an important issue and one in which law enforcement is making progress.

"It's an issue that we are winning and will win," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Hate Crimes in L.A.

The Los Angeles Police Commission adopted a host of recommendations aimed at improving the LAPD's handling of hate crimes. Hate crimes are projected to increase this year compared with 1997. The following chart shows the total number of hate crimes in Los Angeles in the past five years and the breakdown by crime victim.

*Projected figures based on trend in first nine months of the year.

Note: There was one gender-related hate crime each in 1997 and 1998. There was also one disability-related hate crime in 1998.

Source: Los Angeles Police Commission.

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