County Executive Signs Anti-Hate Bill
Following an increase in incidents meant to intimidate, harass, or otherwise show a bias toward a certain group, Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed legislation requiring local police departments to report all perceived incidents in an attempt to track, and combat, these heinous acts. Currently, federal and state laws do not address the overwhelming majority of serious hate incidents, which do not satisfy the elements of a crime but are motivated by a person’s actual or perceived membership in a protected class.
Latimer said, “Here in Westchester, we are proud of our differences – for it’s our diversity which gives us our strength. This legislation comes at a time when incidents meant to divide us seem to be happening at an alarming rate. To better understand what we can do to deter them, we must have accurate data to understand where and when they are happening. I thank our County Police, the various municipal police departments in Westchester, the Board of Legislators and our Human Rights Commission for their efforts on this front.”
This new law will require all local police departments to not only report all bias-related crimes, but bias-related incidents whether a crime has been committed or not, to the Commissioner of Public Safety. Additionally, the law requires the Commissioner of Public Safety to notify the Executive Director of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission of any incident, which, although may not be criminal, is or appears to be motivated by a person’s membership in a protected class.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas A. Gleason said, “The development of the Real Time Crime Center has enabled the Westchester law enforcement community to collaborate and share information more quickly and effectively than ever before. The addition of a central data base of bias crimes and bias-related incidents will be invaluable to any department investigating an incident in their community. The Department of Public Safety has designated a Hate Crimes Liaison Officer to coordinate the sharing of this information throughout the County.”
Human Rights Commission Executive Director Tejash Sanchala said, “Reporting hate incidents is critical. History teaches us that when hate incidents go unchecked, hate crimes may follow. Unchecked hate can breed violence. It is critical to report an incident before it escalates to a crime particularly a violent crime. This amendment will assist the Commission to see any patterns in the County and it will help inform its education and outreach efforts.”
The legislation signed by Latimer passed the Board of Legislators with a 17-0 vote.
As is noted in the law, hate incidents involve behaviors motivated by bias against a victim’s race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, but may not be criminal acts. Hostile or hateful speech, or other disrespectful/discriminatory behavior may be motivated by bias but is not illegal. These incidents rise to crimes only when they directly incite perpetrators to commit violence against persons or property, or if they place a potential victim in reasonable fear of physical injury.
Examples of hate incidents include name-calling, insults, displaying hate material on your own property, posting hate material that does not result in property damage and distribution of materials with hate messages in public places.
Chair of the Board’s Public Safety Committee Legislator Terry Clements said, “Becoming the victim of a bias incident, even if it is not a crime, is traumatic. And the emotional impacts go beyond the incident itself, for victims and communities. Reporting these hate incidents might expose a pattern that can lead to an investigation by law enforcement, or potentially lead to an intervention and avoid a more serious attack on anyone in our community.”
As stated in the report adjoined to the legislation, hate incidents are designed to intimidate, isolate, degrade, traumatize and sow fear in the targeted individual or group. Most acts of hate however, whether or not a crime, go unreported because of fear or embarrassment. However, it is important to note that these incidents have a traumatic impact on the victims as well as on the community at large. They can have consequences for the targeted individual and the public far beyond the act itself and should be reported by everyone, including those targeted and bystanders.
This new law will help combat these attached stigmas.