Cape May Court House, New Jersey – Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland issues the following statement on the need and importance of reporting biased based crimes and incidents to law enforcement:
It has recently been reported that a local ice cream parlor in Cape May, namely, Fine Fellows Creamery, has been the victim of a series of bias incidents and/or bias crimes. For point of reference the bias incident I am referring to is the derogatory anti-gay slurs directed at the owners. The bias crime is the theft of the gay pride flags, assuming they were stolen as a means of intimidation against the store owners.
I did not write this to provide a legal lesson on what is a bias incident versus a bias crime – but to stress to the public the urgent need to report any activity you may witness or be a victim of that you believe may be a bias incident or a bias crime. The reason law enforcement needs to know about any such incident (whether or not it is a crime) is to first make sure that the victim’s needs are addressed and that the perpetrator is found and potentially charged.
The secondary reason, but no less important, is to provide law enforcement with an accurate picture of activities that even if they are not currently a crime – they could lead to crimes in the future; or be evidence of hate groups in our community or being organized in our community and planning or engaged in potential bias crimes.
If a bias crime can be prevented, by locating the perpetrator of a bias event and directing the person to the appropriate program or individuals to hopefully help understand and change their belief; or at a minimum, having them understand that their beliefs may lead them to engaging in criminal activity, the community as a whole is served.
The controlling New Jersey law NJS 2C:16-2 provides that a “person is guilty of a crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of …” certain criminal offenses (ie.- theft, assault, property damage, homicide, etc.) “with the purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity…”
If you are a victim of or witness a bias incident or bias crime in Cape May County you can report the incident to your local police by dialing 911, or contacting the Cape May County Prosecutor’s office (609) 465-1135, ex. 3331 or the New Jersey Department of Criminal Justice Bias Crime Tip line (800) 277-BIAS(2427).
The police agency receiving the reported incident will address any underlying crime that may have been committed and also complete a Supplementary Bias Incident Offense report (in addition to any criminal investigation report). Whether it is a bias crime or bias incident the Supplemental Bias Incident Offense report is provided to the County Prosecutor’s office and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice so evidence of such activities are documented, tracked and cross-referenced with any other potentially related activities that could lead to crimes or be evidence of a pattern of criminal activity.
It is likely that anyone reading this either is a member of one of the protected groups outlined above, or has a loved one or friend who is. However, even if that is not the case, reporting Bias Crimes and Bias Incidents protects all of us and makes our communities safer for everyone; residents and visitors alike. We have seen how hate and bias can lead to tragedies in places such as a predominantly black church in South Carolina, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a night club in Florida and to peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, as well as other incidents. No one should live in fear simply for their beliefs or for being who they are.