Suffolk County police say they have investigated 236 hate crimes since the start of 2012, about 74 percent more than in Nassau County during the same time period, records show.
Suffolk documented 87 hate crimes last year, down from 111 in 2012 -- the year Suffolk recorded the second-highest number of bias crimes of any county in the state. Through the end of July this year, Suffolk has investigated 38 hate crimes.
Nassau police recorded 26 cases this year through the end of July, 43 hate crimes in 2013 and 67 in 2012.
Suffolk police said the high 2012 numbers can be attributed to new recording standards and don't indicate a spike in hate crimes.
The new standards came in the wake of a 2011 federal Justice Department letter to the county that said Suffolk police were inconsistent in the reporting and tracking of hate crimes.
But police acknowledge high-profile incidents, such as the 2008 stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue and the recent indictment of Suffolk Police Sgt. Scott A. Greene for allegedly targeting Latinos in a theft spree, may have given some communities pause to report hate crimes to law enforcement in the past.
Lucero's death eventually resulted in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to overhaul policing policies in Suffolk's minority communities. Greene pleaded not guilty in June to several counts of grand larceny as a hate crime after he was accused of repeatedly targeting and stealing from Hispanic motorists.
"There are probably groups that don't think we're doing enough, but we are trying to make ourselves as accessible to as many communities as possible," said Suffolk Det. Sgt. James Brierton of the Hate Crimes Unit. "Sergeant Greene's alleged actions did not help us in the Hispanic community. I haven't found anybody in the police department that wasn't shocked and sickened by his alleged actions."
Irma Solis, an organizer at the immigrant advocacy organization Make the Road New York, which has an office in Brentwood, said the allegations against Greene indicate there's still a need for "real, systemic change" in the department.
She said a thorough investigation must be completed to determine if any other officers were involved. "It doesn't really encourage anyone who might be the victim of a crime or experience a hate crime to go and report it to police," Solis said.
Hate crimes on Long Island are typically graffiti featuring swastikas or other hateful messages but can sometimes escalate to violent attacks, authorities said.
The recent distribution of recruiting fliers purportedly from the Ku Klux Klan in some Suffolk communities, though not a crime, has riled residents and caught the attention of law enforcement.
Brierton said a renewed emphasis in training, brought on by the DOJ agreement, has paid dividends. Patrol officers frequently check in with Hate Crimes to confirm whether incidents rise to being hate crimes, which Brierton said indicates a new level of alertness to the issue.
Additionally, the department had completed the curriculum for DOJ-mandated "bias-free policing" training and is awaiting DOJ approval before it begins in November.
In both Nassau and Suffolk, authorities said, most of the hate crimes are anti-Jewish, typically graffiti scrawled in public places. Last week, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island established a reward fund with a $1,000 donation from Roslyn resident and political consultant Brad Gertsman for anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and conviction in anti-Semitic crimes.
Gertsman said the strife in Israel was "fueling more anti-Semitism" in Europe and other parts of the world. On Tuesday night, Nassau police received a report of anti-Semitic graffiti on a Sleepy's mattress store in Oceanside. Police were investigating.
Nassau Det. Lt. Gary Shapiro, commanding officer of Community Affairs, which tracks hate crimes, pointed to Nassau's figures, which have declined year to year since 2012.
Nassau police statistics from 2013 show 25 anti-Jewish and nine anti-black incidents among its total.
"It just takes one hate crime to unsettle a community," Shapiro said.
While he said the department has a "zero tolerance" policy regarding hate crimes, it has to balance community concerns with the law, including the right to free speech. Shapiro said in 1979 Nassau was the second police department in the country -- after Boston -- to begin tracking bias crimes.
"People think it's the thought police," Shapiro said. "It's not against the law to dislike or hate someone. It's against the law to victimize someone or hurt them because of who they are."
Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), one of a bipartisan group of legislators who held a news conference last week to denounce the KKK fliers that were first distributed in Hampton Bays and later in West Babylon and Shirley, said the fliers can be attributed to anti-immigrant sentiment. Police are investigating.
"I don't want to say that Suffolk County is hateful or racist," Browning said. "I think it's a small faction of people who want to keep that fueled. You can't continue to fuel something like that. But it can continue to be fueled when you have people in government who are so anti-immigrant."
Doreen Brennan was among the Shirley residents who found a KKK flier on her lawn this month. "It was just a big shock," she said. "You're blown away. I've never seen that on our block and I've lived here well over 35 years. We have a great neighborhood, a diverse block. Nobody knows why all of a sudden this popped up on our block."
Brennan, 50, said she and other neighbors want police to figure out who's doing it and why. "I'm afraid if they get away with this, then they want to get away with something bigger, and it will just escalate," she said.
LONG ISLAND HATE CRIMES
Source: Nassau and Suffolk police