The number of bias-related crimes being committed continues to increase in the Garden State.

According to the most recent data available from the FBI, there were 495 hate crime incidents reported in New Jersey in 2017, the 4th highest total of any state in the nation. That’s a 76 percent increase from the previous year.

Of these incidents, 260 were attributed to race or ethnic bias, 180 were attributed to religious bias, 51 were because of sexual orientation and four were attributed to disability.

The data shows bias crime rose 17 percent nationally across the nation in 2017. Nearly 60 percent of reported incidents were because of the victim’s race or ethnicity, 20.6 percent were because of their religion and 15.8 percent were because of sexual orientation.

Rachel Wainer Apter, the director of the state Division on Civil Rights, said a number of steps are being taken in the Garden State to address the problem.

She pointed out her Division as well as the Division on Criminal Justice, county prosecutors and local police have been traveling across the state hosting community and school forums with civil rights groups.

She noted the Division on Civil rights is actively looking at “what types of trainings and policies might help people to understand and address our own implicit biases and stereotype thinking.”

Additionally, “we’re looking at what regulations may be helpful to clarify how the Law Against Discrimination applies in particular circumstances."

“We are also planning listening sessions across the state to help communities begin having the difficult conversations necessary to break down barriers and foster mutual trust and respect.”

Wainer Apter testified Thursday at a bias hearing sponsored by State Senate Law and Public Safety Committee and the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.

At the conclusion of the hearing, members of both committees unanimously passed a resolution condemning hate crimes and any forms of racism or bias.

According to Wainer Apter, the definition of a bias crime is a particular crime “like harassment, assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief or homicide, that is committed in order to intimidate a person because of his or her race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or national origin.”

She said reporting any type of suspected bias crime is important because if law enforcement and civil rights officials aren’t aware of an incident, they can’t investigate it.

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