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College Aims To Erase Hate

OSWEGO, NY – Reported hate crime incidents increased approximately 14 percent statewide in 2009, according to a report released at the end of 2010 by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Most of these crimes (76 percent) targeted Jews, blacks, gays and Hispanics, the DCJS said. The breakdown was anti-Jewish (37 percent), anti-black (21 percent), anti-male homosexual (12 percent), and anti-Hispanic (6 percent) bias.

“A hate crime is an offense not only against a specific individual, but against an entire community,” said DCJS acting commissioner Sean Byrne. “In order to combat this form of domestic terrorism, we first need to know the extent of the problem. This report provides information and data that will help lawmakers and law enforcement formulate policies and strategies.”

According to the report (http://www.criminaljustice.state.ny.us/crimnet/ojsa/hatecrimes2005-09.pdf), there were seven “hate crimes” at SUNY Oswego in 2009.

“The majority of the crimes we have entered in that category are bias related graffiti instances as directed against a protected group whereby the reporter of the graffiti is a member of that group and was offended by the graffiti. Others include instances where the graffiti was bias in its nature and was specifically intended for a specific victim, for example, a message written in marker left on a student’s white board on the door of their residence hall room,” explained Chief Cindy Adam, of SUNY Oswego’s University Police Department.

Graffiti is criminal mischief and when it is bias in nature compounds the crime and elevates that offense to a hate crime.

“As you would surmise, as far as the outcome of these investigations, very few lead to a specific suspect because there are few leads,” the chief added. “In other instances, the writer was identified through investigation, but the reporter/victim chose not to prosecute.”

As DCJS and the Department of Education have clarified the reporting structure for counting and classifying hate crimes over the years, police agencies are fully complying with forwarding such statistics as included in the college’s annual reports to DCJS, Adam said.

“We take each of these reports serious and make sure they are properly counted and investigated,” the chief said.

The state report, compiled by the DCJS Office of Justice Research and Performance from data submitted by local and state police and sheriff’s offices, shows that a total of 683 hate crimes were reported to police in 43 of the state’s 62 counties in 2009, as compared with 599 in 35 counties the year before.

New York City’s five counties – Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens and Richmond – accounted for 40 percent of all reported hate crimes in 2010.

“The university strives through programming to educate our campus community about the issues of tolerance and welcoming diversity,” Adam said. “We do quite a bit of education with the students and staff to ensure they understand what a hate crime actually is and that they report incidents to University Police.”

An increase in the number of crimes can be a bit deceiving, Adam noted.

In the past quarter, for example, one person could be responsible for writing graffiti at seven different locations and times. That would mean the college would have seven reports; but there would be only one perpetrator.

Seeing an increase in reports can also be a good sign, she added.

“The more education and awareness of what’s a hate crime, the better,” she said. “And the fact that things are being reported more, rather than being ignored, is a good sign that we won’t tolerate this type of behavior on our campus. You may see a spike in the short-term, but I think after a while you’re going to see a decline as people begin to realize they aren’t going to get away with this.”

SUNY Oswego welcomes and encourages diversity, the chief pointed out.

Not only is the campus home to students from all across the country but from around the world as well.

“Our college is multi-national today. We all need to be very sensitive to the rights of individuals no matter what color, religion, sexual orientation or whatever,” Adam said. “Diversity is welcomed here. We have zero tolerance for hate crimes.”