Authorities: Bias crime still a problem in NJ
Middlesex County police continue to investigate a string of home invasion robberies that have apparently targeted Asian-American families.
This type of allegedly bias crime is decreasing in New Jersey, but authorities confirm it's still a significant problem.
"In 2008, the number of bias crime reports, not necessarily prosecutors, but reports, was 876; that declined more or less steadily up until 2012 when it was down to 553," said Elie Honig, the director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.
He said while the trend is positive, "as long as bias crime exists it will be a problem, and it does continue to exist here in New Jersey, and we place the highest priority on this kind of crime."
Honig said the most common type of bias crime is harassment.
"That's a fairly broad definition, but it covers verbal harassment, verbal threats, verbal attacks, that kind of thing and property damage, you know, graffiti or destruction of property. You'll see stories about graffitiing of churches unfortunately and graveyards, we should be careful not to minimize the impact of that kind of crime," Honig said.
According to Honig, bias crimes frequently create a ripple effect of fear and disturbance in communities that is hard to over-state.
Honig said New Jersey counties are given bias crime training by the state all the time, which in turn is shared with local police departments.
"The bottom line is while we're making progress and the number generally are down," he said. "Any bias crime is unacceptable and we won't stop working on this until bias crimes are eradicated."
Honig said what a bias offense does under New Jersey law is raise the degree of the crime one degree - so a third-degree crime becomes a second-degree offense with harsher penalties.