TRENTON - Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that, according to preliminary data, 944 bias incidents were reported to New Jersey law enforcement in 2019, a 65% increase from 2018.
According to a release, the figure, which is likely to change somewhat as law enforcement reconciles end-of-year reports, represents the highest annual total of bias incidents reported since 1996, and the largest year-over-year increase since bias crimes reporting standards was enacted in 1991.
“These preliminary numbers reinforce what we’ve suspected all year, and what too many New Jersey residents know all too well,” stated Grewal. “More and more people are alerting law enforcement about acts of hatred and intolerance that target victims based solely on what they look like, how they worship, or who they love. Now, more than ever, we need to come together as a community to confront this rising tide of hate.”
The preliminary figure of 944 bias incidents in 2019 was compiled as part of the New Jersey Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) System, which is operated by the New Jersey State Police to track crime rates in the state.
By law, every state, county, and local law enforcement agency must submit information to the UCR System on any bias incident reported to them.
The AG’s Office and State Police intend to release the final confirmed UCR data on 2019 reported bias incidents later this spring. The final report will include more detailed data on bias incidents, including data broken down by county, type of incident, and age of offender.
Among the 944 incidents included in the preliminary 2019 data was the December 10, 2019 shooting at the JC Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City.
“The terrible attack in Jersey City was by far the most violent bias incident in New Jersey last year, but it was hardly the only one,” stated Grewal. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to solve this problem. In addition to maintaining vigilance against such attacks, we in law enforcement are joining with community members and youth leaders across the state to counter the corrosive messages of hate that motivate such acts, and to replace them with messages of tolerance, understanding, and unity.”
“The 65 percent increase in reported bias incidents is a sobering reminder of the alarming rate that hateful acts are being perpetrated against the citizens of our State,” said Col. Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “Even though officer training and incident tracking have aided police departments in their response to these incidents, it is imperative that our residents remain vigilant in reporting bias crime without delay.”
In mid-February, Grewal intends to announce the findings of the Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias.
The Task Force, which is chaired by the Division on Civil Rights, was created by Executive Order in August 2019 after the Attorney General issued a report showing a rising number of bias incidents involving juveniles.
The Task Force has been conducting listening sessions across the state. It will issue a report with advice and recommendations to Gov. Murphy and Grewal on strategies and actions to reduce incidents of hate, bias, and intolerance involving students and young adults.
“The data confirms that incidents motivated by bias, prejudice, and hate are rising,” stated Rachel Wainer Apter, the director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR). “We encourage anyone who has been subjected to bias-based harassment or discrimination at work, in housing, or in a place of public accommodation to file a complaint with DCR, where remedies can include equitable relief and compensatory damages. And we are working closely with the entire Task Force to finalize a list of comprehensive recommendations on how to prevent and combat bias, prejudice, and hate among children and young adults. If anyone was not able to join one of our listening sessions but has ideas or recommendations for how to prevent or combat bias, we encourage them to please submit written comments to the Taskforce.”
In April 2019, Grewal issued updated Bias Incident Investigation Standards which focus on ensuring proper investigation of all bias incidents.
The standards provide for streamlined reporting of all bias incidents by law enforcement agencies using the new Electronic Uniform Crime Reporting (eUCR) system maintained by the New Jersey State Police.
This system allows for centralized and more accurate reporting of bias incidents throughout the state. The standards mandate continuing education for police officers regarding interactions with various faiths and cultures, as well as recognizing and investigating bias crimes.
The increase in reported bias incidents in 2019 may be the result, in part, of improved reporting facilitated by the eUCR system, as well as recent incidents and outreach efforts that have raised the awareness of the public and law enforcement regarding the importance of reporting and thoroughly investigating all bias incidents.
For the purposes of UCR reporting, a “bias incident” is a suspected or confirmed violation of New Jersey’s bias intimidation statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1(a)(1) or (2), in which a victim is subjected to harassment, assault, terroristic threats, or other specified acts “because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.”
Because the data captures only reported bias incidents, it is under-inclusive in that it does not capture incidents that were never reported to local law enforcement. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than half of hate crime victims nationwide from 2011 to 2015 did not report the crimes to the police.