Hate crimes office needed to 'make city safer,' council advocates say

By Lisa L. Colangelo

After a week of shocking events that included the spray-painting of swastikas inside a Columbia University professor’s office, the assault of a 33-year-old man leaving a Brooklyn synagogue, and the destruction of statues outside a church, elected officials reiterated the need for a new mayoral office dedicated to hate crimes.

“Rhetoric is not enough; we need action and legislation and government,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, who sponsored the bill that creates an Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, during a Tuesday news conference on the steps of City Hall. “[We are] calling for those concrete steps to protect our people, to make this city safer for all.”

The office would focus on working with agencies on prevention, awareness, investigation and prosecution, as well as the impact of hate crimes on communities, according to the bill. It also would create and implement a “coordinated system for the city’s response to hate crimes.”

Levine stood with several lawmakers, including co-sponsor Councilman Donovan Richards and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who both pointed out that educating young people is an important part of battling hate crimes.

“We have to make sure the police department isn’t the only agency dealing with this,” Richards said.

During a hearing on the bill last month, NYPD officials said there were 308 confirmed hate crimes this year as of Nov. 11, compared with 303 for the same time period in 2017.

In addition, anti-white, anti-black and anti-Semitic hate crimes increased during the same period, officials said.

“If someone scrawls a swastika, they should understand what the meaning is, how it impacts a Holocaust survivor, how it impacts the community,” Deutsch said.

Levine said he expects the bill, which already has the backing of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to receive broad support in the chamber.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill addressed the increase in bias incidents during a news conference later in the day, saying the department is beefing up its presence outside houses of worship in the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg.

“Increased reports of criminal mischief, harassment or assault here in the five boroughs concern us a great deal,” O’Neill said. “None of it will ever be tolerated in NYC. I can tell you that NYPD investigators who make up the best and most robust hate crimes task force [will] fully investigate every single complaint.”

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