Hate crimes reported in Suffolk County jumped 200 percent last year, but much of the spike was attributed to a new police emphasis and public outreach by human rights groups.
The number of hate crimes reported statewide rose 30 percent last year, reaching an all-time high, according to a state report released yesterday.
There were 720 hate crimes in New York State in 2012, up from 555 the previous year, the report said. Fueling the rise were property-related bias incidents reported in Suffolk and New York City, including graffiti peppered with swastikas and racial slurs.
Suffolk hate crimes surged from 39 in 2011 to 117 last year, while New York City police reported 374 hate crimes last year -- up from 242 in 2011, a 54 percent increase.
"One hate crime is one hate crime too many," said Det. Lt. Stephen Hernandez, commanding officer of the Suffolk police Special Victims Section. "We're really focused not only on enforcement in partnership with the D.A., but also on educating people and bringing these problems to light."
Nassau police departments reported 61 hate-related incidents last year, down from the 62 recorded in 2011, the Division of Criminal Justice Services report shows.
Hate crimes rose in all five boroughs: from 18 to 28 in the Bronx; 106 to 157 in Brooklyn; 60 to 93 in Manhattan; 50 to 70 in Queens; and 8 to 26 in Staten Island.
In Suffolk, authorities attributed the rise in hate crimes to a policy change.
Starting Jan. 1, 2012, the county police department began classifying racist graffiti incidents under the state's hate crimes statute instead of as petty mischief -- a move recommended by the state. There have been 67 hate crimes reported so far this year, the department said.
Suffolk police have a checkered history when it comes to identifying and investigating hate crimes. The department revamped policies related to hate crime investigations after the killing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean man attacked by seven youths and stabbed to death in Patchogue in 2008.
Lucero's death led the U.S. Justice Department to open an investigation into the county's handling of hate crimes against Latinos, faulting police procedures, pointing to warning signs that preceded Lucero's killing, and calling on the department to strengthen efforts to combat, identify and investigate hate crimes.
Among the findings from the state report:
Hate crimes targeting property (409) increased 48 percent statewide in 2012, while hate crimes against persons (311) increased by 12 percent.
The most frequently reported bias motivations for hate crimes targeting property were anti-Jewish (64 percent) and anti-black (13 percent).
The most frequently reported bias motivations for hate crimes against people were anti-sexual-orientation (26 percent), anti-black (25 percent) and anti-Jewish (22 percent).
Anti-Jewish hate crimes accounted for 82 percent (332) of 405 religious-bias incident reports.
Of the 93 anti-sexual-orientation hate crimes, 74 percent (69) targeted male homosexuals.
Incidents motivated by anti-Islamic bias against individuals increased to 18, up 4 from the previous year.
Evan R. Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League's New York regional director, called the rise in anti-Semitic incidents "highly disturbing."
"Unfortunately, we are still seeing the Jewish community being targeted in significant numbers," he said.
At Masjid Darul Quran mosque in North Bay Shore, where exterior walls were spray-painted with anti-Muslim messages in September 2012, worshipper Mohammed Iqbal said he was alarmed by the rise in hate crimes.
"It happens far too often," Iqbal said. "In a civilized society, such expressions of hate should not be so frequent."
Steven Markowitz, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, said those responsible for the incidents may be unable to accept the Island's growing diversity.
"They lash out," he said. "It's a sign of their own insecurities and fears."
Rabbi Steven Moss, chairman of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said he and other officials are working to strengthen state laws.
"We must continue all our efforts to ensure that anyone who is the victim of a crime or an incident will be able to feel that there are those in the community who can help them," he said.