The number of hate crimes reported on Long Island is declining, according to Nassau and Suffolk police statistics — dropping even as hate crimes in New York City and across the country are on the rise.
Nassau police say they received 59 hate crime reports in 2016, compared with 62 in 2015 and 76 in 2014. The recent high was 120 in 2010. Twelve hate crimes have been reported in Nassau this year through Wednesday.
Police in Suffolk County say 42 hate crimes were reported last year, a drop from the 69 reported in 2015 and a steep decline from the recent high of 111 reported in 2012. Eight hate crimes have been reported in Suffolk this year through February.
Neither department provided a breakdown of the groups targeted in the crimes.
Leaders of Long Island minority advocacy organizations say they suspect the low rate of hate crimes on the Island is because they are underreported.
In New York State, hate crimes are defined as criminal offenses motivated by a victim’s race, religion, ethnic background, gender or sexual orientation, authorities said. Calling somebody a racial slur is considered a hate incident. Assaulting somebody because of their race or religion also is a hate crime.
Even as Long Island’s numbers dipped, nationwide hate crimes appear to be increasing.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, reported last week that hate crimes in nine metropolitan areas — including New York City — rose last year. Director Brian Levin blamed the increase in part on the heated talk during the 2016 presidential campaign about immigrants who are undocumented.
The California researchers say 380 hate crimes were reported to the NYPD in 2016 — a 24 percent increase over the previous year — and that hate crime reports were up 20 percent across New York State. Earlier this month, the NYPD said hate crimes were 55 percent higher in the first two months of 2017 than in the same period in 2016.
Part of that rise reflected a surge in anti-Semitic incidents — bias crimes that have occurred on Long Island as well. Locally, the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview received a bomb threat Feb. 27 — part of a rash of hoax bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions in New York and across the country.
On Long Island, advocates for the region’s Hispanic communities say Central and South American immigrants who are wary of police and fearful in the face of President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric might feel the safer course is to stay silent about a hate crime.
“The number of reports is always an indication of how the community feels about safety,” said Walter Barrientos, the lead organizer of Make the Road New York, a Latino advocacy nonprofit in Brentwood. “We have gotten more reports of hate incidents since the [Nov. 8 presidential] election than we have in the past eight years.”
And the reluctance to report crimes, they say, also is part of the lasting legacy of the tensions between Hispanics and Suffolk police that erupted in 2008 when Ecuadorean day laborer Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death during a confrontation with high school students in Patchogue.
A 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center said immigrants were distrustful of Suffolk police before Lucero’s death because officers did not take reports of attacks seriously — and sometimes even contributed to their harassment. Lucero’s death resulted in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to overhaul policing policies in Suffolk’s minority communities.
“People are afraid to report incidents,” said Joselo Lucero, Marcelo’s brother and the outreach coordinator for the Hagedorn Foundation, a Long Island philanthropic organization. “People want to keep a low profile when it comes to the police. There is still a real climate of fear.”
The relationship between police and the Hispanic community, the advocates say, had another setback with the case of former Suffolk Sgt. Scott Greene, who last year was convicted of stealing money from Latino motorists during traffic stops.
Nassau and Suffolk law enforcement officials acknowledge that immigrants may be leery of police, but say they have worked hard to build trust between their agencies and the Hispanic community.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said his officers have been told to refrain from asking crime victims or witnesses about their immigration status.
Sini said his department has hired more Spanish-speaking and Hispanic cops and has beefed up its community liaison corps. Suffolk also has provided information to the Hispanic community about how to file criminal and internal affairs complaints.
The department’s crackdown on the MS-13 street gang, which was implicated in the brutal slayings of two teenage girls in Brentwood last year, has encouraged Hispanic community members to work more closely with police, he added.
“A substantial amount of effort and resources have gone into this,” Sini said. “We want to make sure people feel comfortable coming to the police department.”
Nassau Police Deputy Commissioner Patrick Ryder said his department takes a similar approach. He said police officials meet regularly with representatives of the county’s Hispanic, Muslim and LGBT communities.
“We are constantly reaching out,” Ryder said. “We discuss what we can do with them to improve dialogue.”
Nassau officers also do not ask victims and witnesses of crimes about their immigration status.
“We’re not taking part in any sweep, not that there have been any in Nassau County,” he said.
For other communities on Long Island, interacting with police is less fraught.
“The cultures account for the different relationships with law enforcement,” said Etzion Neuer, the deputy director of the state Anti-Defamation League. “We know hate crimes are underreported in some communities.”
“I have to give credit where credit is due,” said Isma Chaudry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island. “The Muslim community feels like it has the same rights as anybody else to go to the police for help.”
David Kilmnick, the chief executive of the LGBT Network, said some members of his community don’t report hate crimes because their sexuality remains undisclosed, and they fear they will be ostracized by family, friends, employers or landlords if they found out.
“We have a good relationship with the Suffolk County police,” Kilmnick said.