The number of hate crimes is on a sizeable rise nationally, according to the latest FBI statistics, but the needle has moved slightly in the opposite direction here in the Garden State.

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Crimes targeting a person's race, religion, disability, ethnicity and other personal identifiers jumped 6.8 percent between 2014 and 2015 nationwide, the bureau found, using Uniform Crime Reporting data.

The data is contributed by each state, and in New Jersey last year, law enforcement agencies reported 367 bias incident offenses, compared to 373 in 2014.

According to the state data, which is required by law, Middlesex County saw the greatest number of hate crimes in 2015 (70). Harassment was the recorded offense in half of the cases. Criminal mischief accounted for another 24.

Monmouth County and Gloucester County recorded the second and third-most number of hate crimes.

No county saw hate crimes in the form of murder, manslaughter or rape, the data showed.

The Black race and Jewish religion represented the most victimized racial and religious groups statewide, each making up at least 30 percent of all bias incidents.

A total of 50 arrests resulted from bias crime investigations, compared to 68 in 2014.

Nicholas Irons, a criminal justice professor at the County College of Morris, referred to hate crimes as a "slap in the face" to a local community, but he said the occurrence of these heinous crimes will likely continue at the same rate and not drop off by significant numbers anytime soon.

"You're not going to see much of a change in it because it's just perpetrated by a very small group of people that, I think, have a sick mind," Irons told New Jersey 101.5. "They want to get their message out there one way or the other...and if it's going to hurt somebody, then they have succeeded."

Irons said one's hatred towards a certain group or way of life is generally a product of how one is raised, but "people who are easily led" may be swayed by social media and other online measures.

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