By JOE PALAZZOLO
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - While the number of hate crimes in Maryland fell by about half in the last 10 years, according to FBI data, religiously-motivated crimes are on the rise as a percentage of reported incidents.
The numbers of total hate crime incidents slid 20.4 percent from 2004 to 2005 alone, following a decade-long trend, the data show. In 1995, Maryland agencies reported 353 hate crimes, the vast majority of them racially motivated. By the end of 2005, that number had dwindled to 195.
The 2005 data does not include a recent spate of hate crimes in Charles County, where police are investigating at least a dozen instances of racially motivated graffiti and vandalism, or hate crimes in Montgomery County this month involving swastikas spray-pained on vehicles and on a new section of the King Farm development in Rockville.
While Maryland's falling incidence rate outpaced a 6 percent decline nationally in hate crimes last year, the state's police agencies reported the 10th highest incidence of hate crimes among the 48 states that contributed to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
Maryland law enforcement officials said the overall decrease was evidence of the state's redoubled efforts to report and track hate crimes.
"We take it more seriously. It's not something that we go out and investigate and throw in a box," said Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
As in years past, racial and religious biases fueled the bulk—about 91 percent—of hate crimes committed in Maryland in 2005, the data showed.
But while racially-motivated hate crimes have decreased by 23 percent since 2003, incidents of religious bias haven't budged.
"This a change in the dynamics," said David Baker, the hate crimes director for the Montgomery County Police Department, which reported 27 incidents stemming from religious bias, the most in the state. "It's different than anything we've seen, and we're looking into it with a great deal of curiosity."
The Baltimore County Police Department reported 50 racially motivated incidents, also the highest in the state.
Bill Toohey, spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said Baltimore County's numbers reflect the department's reporting methods rather than a crisis unique to the region.
"It's not that we have a very bad problem, it's that we have a very strong response," Toohey said. "Our system is probably more thorough than any other in the state."
Incidences that "reflect bias and might be perceived as bias by the community," such as pamphlets from the Klu Klux Klan or graffiti, are documented, even though they do not constitute a crime, Toohey said.
Like Toohey, Baker said his department's record-keeping system is exhaustive, but he said he has seen "dramatic increases" in anti-Semitic vandalism in the Montgomery County, particularly spray-painted swastikas. And he wonders if it isn't a trend that's going unreported.
"Some police departments don't report anything," he said. "But we're very strict on our standard for reporting."
The swastikas, Baker said, appearing on stop signs, vehicles, apartment complexes, synagogues and churches, are precisely drawn, which may indicate some level of organization, he said.
In southern Maryland, the largest number of hate crimes that were reported to the media occurred in Charles County. According to the Sheriff Department's incident reports, the hate crimes typically involved spray painting property with racial graffiti such as "KKK." In many cases, the Sheriff did not disclose the specific words or symbols that were used in the crimes.
"Hate crimes are extremely offensive and affect more than just the victims whose property was damaged," said Charles County Sheriff Frederick E. Davis in response to the recent arrests of two teen boys accused of painting racial graffiti on two residences and a vehicle in Waldorf. "We are working very hard to identify everyone who is responsible for hate crimes in our community and hold them accountable for their actions."
Maryland was included among nine states that accounted for 80 percent of all incidents of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment in the United States in 2005, according to a report released in September by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Those numbers—Muslims living in Maryland reported 85 incidents—were not clearly reflected in the FBI's data, which identified 52 hate crimes motivated by religion but did not break them down by faith.
The FBI's uniform crime report uses data collected from police agencies across Maryland, at city, county, state and federal levels.
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