Faced with an alarming rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents tht took place in 2003, Westchester County, N.Y. has partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to ensure that those messages of bigotry and hate don't go any further.
About 40 police officers from around the county took part in a new training program on Tuesday, which addressed spotting hate crimes and extremism, and specifically, looked at how the Internet has encouraged the spread of such propaganda.
Taught by national experts from the Anti-Defamation League, the course showed effective techniques for combating extremism and quelling the rise of white supremacist group activities in Westchester County.
"We've seen a rash of hateful activities and anti-Semitic vandalism right here in our backyard, and that's something that simply won't be tolerated. One incident is too many," said County Executive Andy Spano.
"We are going to do everything in our power to make sure that bigotry and hatred don't find a home in Westchester County. Specialized training for our police departments is a good place to start."
According to figures announced today by the ADL, in Westchester County alone, there were 26 anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2003 - up from Seven in 2002 and 15 in 2001. These incidents ranged from synagogue vandalism and hate mail on the Internet to ten incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism, including:
On October 9, a Colonial Heights resident's car was spray painted with three 15 x 15-inch swastikas in Yonkers.
From August to November, New World Order pamphlets were distributed throughout Westchester repeatedly. In the second week of December, National Socialist Movement information cards with swastikas were left on cars in parking lots throughout Westchester County.
On March 27, 2003, the Jewish Family Congregation was vandalized with a swastika. Additionally, a large blue swastika was spray painted on the Midchester Jewish Center in Yonkers at the end of September, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Swastikas were painted on the Midchester Jewish Center once again on November 5.
"It's alarming to see such a significant increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents over the past year," said Joel Levy, the New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "The ADL is troubled that anti-Semites continue to vandalize property and threaten residents of Westchester County, and is working to combat such activities through law enforcement training, educational programs, and public exposure of these hateful groups."
Spano noted that the numbers of hate-related incidents is probably even higher, given that many incidents are never even reported.
Today police officers, investigators and instructors also learned about the extremists' ideologies and the criminal tactics those ideologies may generate; effective investigation, solving and prosecuting techniques; and resources and guidelines for protecting the communities most threatened by criminal extremism.
"Unfortunately incidences of hate have become an issue in Westchester, and it's something we in the law enforcement community need to be well briefed on," said Public Safety Commissioner Tom Belfiore. "We wanted to bring in the best training available when it comes to recognizing and investigating hate crimes. Therefore we are pleased to be able to sponsor this training and give local departments the resources to combat hate."
This is the first time this particular course is being offered in Westchester County, but the department hopes to follow up with future training programs. Belfiore noted that the department also tracks web-based mailings and works to identify the sources.
One of today's sessions focused on "Hate on the Internet" and included a presentation on some of the extensive websites used by extremist groups with histories of violence. For example, computer video games allow participants to dress up as a Klansman and then chase down and kill "subhumans." Anti-Semitic rock music can be downloaded onto CDs and used to recruit new members into hate movements.
Electronic conversations take place every day on numerous extremist Internet Relay Chat channels, such as #Nazi and #Klan. Members of hate groups debate, rant, and insult their opponents in public discussion groups (or newsgroups) with titles such as alt.politics.white-power and alt.revisionism. Hundreds of web pages contain bomb-making formulas.
"It's absolutely shocking to see the extent of hate materials readily available on the Internet," Spano said.
In a related effort, Westchester County is also preparing to unveil a new website that outlines the mandate of the Human Rights Commission, stating why it is illegal to discriminate in employment, public facilities, renting or selling real estate or offering credit based on someone's religion, race, sexual orientation, nationality, age, gender, disability, etc. It will also direct those who have been victims of "physical intimidation or acts of hate and physical violence" to contact the Human Rights Commission. The website, expected to go up next week, is at www.westchestergov.com/humanrightscommission.
Levy added that he applauded Westchester County for leading the fight against hate crimes and anti-Semitism in the region.
"The county executive's dedication to the fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry is a model for political leaders across the nation," Levy said.
Please contact ADL for more information about our training opportunities for law enforcement professionals.