Broward County

Broward leads Florida in reported hate crimes in 2009, report says

Reported hate crimes in Florida dropped nearly 19 percent in 2009 from the year before, according to a report by the state attorney general's office.

Broward County led the state in hate-crimes reporting: with 22 crimes reported in Wilton Manors, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach and other locations.

Last year, Broward reported 25 hate crimes -- also No. 1 in the state.

``That is the downside of education and encouraging people to report,'' Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said Tuesday.

``We've been beating the drum with that message for the past three years.''

Cmdr. Richard Wierzbicki, who runs the sheriff's Hate Crimes/Anti Bias Task Force, describes the county's No. 1 status as ``a little double-edge sword.''

``Do you want to have the highest number of reported hate crimes in the state? No,'' he said. ``But for two years now, Sheriff Lamberti and myself, CrimeStoppers and other members of the Broward Sheriff's Office have been proactively encouraging people throughout the county that it is OK to report hate crimes.''

In this year's report, Broward is followed by Alachua County, which includes Gainesville, with 20 reported hate crimes; and 17 in Miami-Dade County, led by Miami Beach with seven crimes reported.

The city of Miami reported no hate crimes in either 2008 or 2009. A total of 148 hate crimes were reported in Florida during 2009. In 2008, 182 crimes were reported.

This year, more than half of the reported crimes, 80, were based on race or color and nearly a quarter, 33, on sexual orientation, the report says.

Other categories are religion (21), ethnicity/national origin (14), disability (0), mental disability (0) and advanced age (0).

The Florida Legislature increased penalties for hate-crimes in 1989.

The state began tracking the crimes in 1990.

Attorney General Bill McCollum's office warned not to harshly judge a jurisdiction department for having a higher number of reported hate crimes:

``Attempts to rank or categorize any agency, county or region based on the number of reported hate crime incidents would be inappropriate and misleading,'' reads the report.