Source: This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe's City Weekly on 12/10/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Helping Police Probe Hate Crimes:
ADL to Give Officers How-to Cards

By Emily Shartin, Globe Correspondent

As more police officers are schooled in the complexities of investigating hate crimes, the Anti-Defamation League in Boston is helping to build a more unified police response to incidents of hate statewide.

At police roll calls across the state this Thursday, including Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, the ADL, a unit of B'nai B'rith, will distribute laminated cards that detail strategies for investigating crimes that appear motivated by hate or bias.

ADL officials say the 3-by-7-inch cardsare meant to encourage the 16,000 officers in 170 participating departments - 90 percent of the state's police departments - to look more carefully at the motivations for a crime. They say officers will be reminded to consider whether the victims 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, which has been working with the ADL on this project.

Given the fact that hate crime statutes are relatively new, police say they welcome just about any resource that helps them on the job. Although police departments now routinely offer hate crimes investigation training, that hasn't always been the case, said John Collins, general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, also a partner in the campaign.

''Hate crimes [is] one of the areas where traditionally we didn't train people,'' said Collins, noting that such training only became standard for most police departments within the past decade.

Identifying what constitutes a hate crime can sometimes be an overwhelming task for an officer.

Frank Pasquarello, Cambridge police spokesman, says those who are first on the scene of a crime have very little time to assess the situation before determining whether to call it a hate crime.

''We have to make a decision in about 10 seconds,'' Pasquarello said. ''That decision can largely determine how the investigation will proceed. The cards remind officers to look for tell-tale signs or symbols, to take into account the history of the neighborhood, to consider whether the incident occurred on a significant date, such as Hitler's birthday (April 20), and offer strategies for talking with victims.''

The card will ''give us kind of a standard to go by,'' said Pasquarello.

According to Andrew Tarsy, the ADL's civil rights director in Boston, the campaign is not a criticism of how police handled hate crime investigations. Instead, the campaign's goal is to foster trust and communication between victims and police.

Tarsy said the ADL is concerned that hate crime victimsare often reluctant to report incidents to authorities.

The more that police officers demonstrate they understand the unique pain of a hate crime victim, Tarsy said, the more likely victims will be to come forward.

According to the state's 1998 crime statistics, the latest available, there were 497 reported bias crimes - 358 of them in Boston, 13 in Brookline, eight in Cambridge, and one in Somerville. The state figure was up 7 percent from 1997.

Under Massachusetts law, penalties for assaults or vandalism motivated by hate or bias are more serious than those for similar crimes not motivated by hate, according the Middlesex District Attorney's office. For example, an assault motivated by hate that injures someone can carry a fine of $10,000 and a jail term of five years, whereas a ''regular'' assault can carry a $5,000 fine and a 21/2-year jail term.

But just as important as prosecuting hate crimes, officials say, is bringing to light the antagonism that causes the incidents.

''It's an indication that there's an undercurrent that we all, as a community, should know about,'' said Charles McDonald, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety.

Like other officers in Massachusetts, Brookline police Captain Peter Scott says local bias-motivated crime has been limited to vandalism and assault, often also involving racial or other offensive epithets.

Scott believes Brookline's diversity has rendered the community more tolerant of its differences, but also says it is still the duty of police officers to remain prepared for whatever might happen.

Bouras, the Governor's Task Force director, added that it is crucial to treat what seem to be minor incidents seriously. ''If left unchecked, the incidents always escalate'' inseverity, she said.

Over the past 10 years, police departments across the state have been moving toward a model of community policing, which includes more beat foot patrols, and away from what Collins refers to as ''You call, we haul.''

That is especially important, Tarsy says, because of the destabilizing effects a hate crime can have on an entire group of people.

Police and other agencies across the state already carry cards put together by the state public safety office on strategies for various emergencies, McDonald said, like gas leaks, school violence,or plane crashes.

Somerville police carry similar cards reminding them of how best to assess and handle instances of domestic violence.

Somerville Police Sergeant Dan Cotter believes the hate crime card will help promote awareness among his officers. ''It's another tool,'' he said.

Boston police are also getting the hate crime cards on Thursday. But a spokeswoman last week said she could not comment because police officials are not scheduled to meet with the ADL until Tuesday.

In Cambridge, Pasquarello said there is nothing wrong with holding all police departments to the same standardsof investigation, although he noted that the cards will not significantly change how his department will handle hate crimes.

Considering that police will likely be the first people a victim contacts, Pasquarello said it is important to ensure that all officers respond in a professional manner. ''We want people to feel comfortable to call us,'' he said.

A more unified police response to such incidents will likely show the public that intolerance exists in their communities. ''A lot of people believe it doesn't happen, but it does,'' he said.