The Boston Globe, December 14, 2000,
Police Get Help Putting Hate in its Place
By Emily Shartin, Globe Correspondent
Now that more police officers are schooled in the complexities of investigating hate crimes, the Anti-Defamation League wants to help police departments build a more unified and thorough approach to those investigations.
At police roll calls across the state today - including those in Framingham, Holliston, Hudson, Lincoln, Sherborn, and Wayland - the ADL will distribute laminated cards detailing strategies for investigating crimes that appear to be motivated by hate or bias.
The ADL says the 3-by-7-inch cards, which will be distributed to 16,000 officers in 170 departments, are meant to encourage police to carefully examine the motivations for a crime. Officers are reminded to consider whether victims may have been singled out because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender - all indicators of hate crimes.
''It just gets them to be thinking a little more globally around the incident,'' said Christina Bouras, executive director of the Governor's Task Force on Hate Crimes, a partner in the campaign.
John Collins, general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, estimated that instruction on hate crimes has only become standard for most police departments within the last 10 years. ''Hate crimes [are] one of the areas where traditionally we didn't train people,'' he said.
Although some hate-crime investigations are relatively cut and dried, police say the motivations for certain incidents cannot always be quickly identified.
''There's still that gray area that will always remain,'' said Medfield Police Chief Richard Hurley.
The cards remind officers to look for telltale signs or symbols, to take into account the history of the neighborhood, and to consider whether the incident occurred on a significant date, such as Hitler's birthday; and offers strategies for talking with victims.
Those kinds of reminders, says Framingham Police Lieutenant Lou Griffith, can help officers collect a more complete set of facts at the scene of a crime, which can ultimately lead to a more successful review of the incident, and possible prosecution.
''The more complete the initial investigation is, the better off we're going to be down the road,'' Griffith said.
According to Andy Tarsy, ADL civil rights director, the campaign is not intended to criticize the ways police have traditionally handled investigations into hate crimes; instead, it aims to foster trust and communication between victims and police. The ADL is concerned that victims of hate crimes are often reluctant to report incidents to authorities.
''The more that police officers demonstrate they understand the unique pain of a victim,'' Tarsy said, ''the more likely victims will be to come forward.''
Under Massachusetts law, penalties for assault or vandalism motivated by hate can be more serious than penalties for other crimes. For example, while an assault is punishable by a $500 fine and a 2 1/2-year jail term, a hate-motivated assault that results in injury can carry a fine of $10,000 and a jail term of five years, according to the Middlesex district attorney's office.
But just as important as prosecuting hate crimes, officials say, is bringing to light the antagonism causing those incidents.
''It's an indication that there's an undercurrent that we all as a community should know about,'' said Charles McDonald, director of communications for the state's Executive Office of Public Safety.
The most recent statistics compiled by state public safety officials show that 497 hate crimes were reported across Massachusetts in 1998, as compared with 29,708 aggrevated assaults for the same year.
Police officers across the region served by Globe West say local incidents of bias-motivated crime are rare, and usually involve vandalism, assault, or spoken epithets. Newton, for example, has dealt several times with swastika graffiti around the city and in the schools, Newton Police Lieutenant Paul Anastasia said. Hurley recalled two cases over his 12-year tenure in Medfield, both involving what appeared to be anti-Semitic vandalism.
The infrequency of hate crimes in Massachusetts is one reason why police say the ADL project will be helpful. Many officers already carry cards reminding them of procedures for certain obscure motor vehicle violations, domestic violence, or arrests.
''When things don't happen on a regular basis, you lose your sharpness,'' said Needham Police Chief William Slowe. But when something does happen, the community counts on the police to respond thoroughly and appropriately. Westborough Police Chief Glenn Parker notes that ignoring the seemingly lesser hate-motivated incidents can lead to more serious problems in the future. ''It can escalate into something you really don't want to happen,'' he said.
Police should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to hate crimes, Slowe says, because of the way those incidents attack the very core of a person's sense of identity. ''They're treated very seriously because ... it's the ultimate personal affront,'' he said. ''All your other defenses are gone. What's left?''
This story ran on page 01 of The Boston Globe's Globe West section on 12/14/2000.
© 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.