HATE CRIME Racist graffiti was spray-painted on numerous homes on Woodllawn Court in Dundas in February. A year-end report presented to the police services board noted a 60 per cent rise in hate crimes in 2011 over 2010.
Crime Statistics in Hamilton for 2011
• Violent crimes increased 5 per cent compared to 2010
• Homicides fell to 5 from 11 in 2010 — a 55 per cent drop
• Attempted murders quadrupled to 8 from 2
• Assaults were on the rise by 6 per cent, climbing to 3,834
• Break and enters fell 12 per cent to 2,482
• Robberies fell 4 per cent to 512
• Sexual offences rose to 462, a 7 per cent increase
The number of hate crimes in Hamilton soared by almost 60 per cent last year.
A year-end report discussed at the Hamilton Police Services Board meeting Monday indicated there were 54 hate or bias-motivated crimes in 2011, up from 34 in the previous year.
The total number of reported hate- or bias-related complaints police received last year also grew, jumping 45 per cent to 180 from the 124 reported in 2010.
But Hamilton police attributed the rise in these offences to a rise in reporting from the community — thanks to increased police outreach programs and communication with diverse local groups in recent years.
“We are not discouraged by the increase. It just shows our partnership with the community and the message is out there to report, report, report,” said Sergeant Nancy Lantz of the Hate Crime Unit.
“Our bottom line is if it’s a hate crime, we’re going to follow it through the reports and demand the jail time for the hate crime.”
Over the past five years, the number of reported incidents of hate- or bias-based events has almost tripled.
Police have continued to sit on local boards, attend meetings and go into schools with the John Howard Society to create more awareness, Lantz said.
But the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion’s executive director Evelyn Myrie wonders whether the increase in reporting was the only reason for the dramatic increase in hate crimes in recent years.
“It’s good to know that people are feeling more comfortable to report, but it surprised me that there are so many incidents happening in the community,” she said.
“The numbers are a bit concerning. The jump of 59 per cent (in hate crimes) in a year — is it only attributed to the increase of awareness? I don’t now.”
Myrie said she has noticed a “growing intolerance” toward immigration and immigrants over the past few years. There may be a connection between tough economic times and the tendency to use newcomers as scapegoats, she said.
“I really applaud police for their work. However, I wouldn’t think it (the growth in hate crime statistics) only relates to increased awareness.”
Hamilton police define hate- or bias-motivated crimes as offences against a person or property that is committed solely or in part because of a suspect’s bias or prejudice based on the victim’s race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation.
Last year, the majority of calls in this category pertained to racial prejudice. The black community was the most targeted group, making up 30 per cent of the reported events.
Events related to sexual orientation were second highest, comprising 17 per cent of the calls, followed by the Jewish community being the victim of 14 per cent of reported incidents.
Chief Glenn De Caire said the rise in reports of hate events was a positive thing because it shows local groups have welcomed the police service into the community.
“Let’s encourage people to report, and if reporting goes up, that’s good and that gives us a better opportunity to find those who are responsible and hold them accountable,” he said.
Last August, police investigated a graffiti incident where a swastika was scrawled across the garage door of a Dundas residence.
And in December, two copies of a cartoon depicting a caveman dropping a Koran into a fire were taped to the women’s prayer entrance at the Downtown Mosque.
According to the year-end report, 62 charges stemmed from the 54 hate crimes police investigated in 2011. Graffiti was the most common offence in this category, followed by assault.
“(Graffiti) can be done where not a lot of people are around. There’s no face-to-face with the person,” Lantz said. “We take it very seriously and eradicate the graffiti as soon as possible so the other members of the community don’t have to see it.”