Police Unit Investigates Bias Crimes

Police Unit Investigates Bias Crimes

An influx of racially biased incidents in the Springfield area trigged the turning of investigative wheels, beginning on the district station level and ending up before the eyes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

From mid May to early June, six incidents of bias crimes and incidents occurred in the area, four of them in the Hayfield Farms area near Kingstowne, according to police.

On May 14, "school security personnel discovered a swastika written on the side window of the [elementary] school."

Then on May 25, the Hayfield community pool was vandalized and "ethnically-derogatory symbols were carved and drawn in the pool area." On Monday, May 26, vandalism occurred at Hayfield Secondary School with "racially and ethnically derogatory words spraypainted on the door and surrounding walls, and finally sometime between the afternoon of Saturday, May 24 and Tuesday, May 27, a business was marred with "several swastikas spray painted on the outside of a business," according to police.

On June 2, "a citizen told police that when she arrived home from school, she found a racially derogatory statement written on her apartment door," according to police. The next day, a patrol officer at Lake Braddock Secondary School, reported "several areas of the building that were spray painted with profanity and swastikas," police reported.

At the county level, Second Lt. Gervais Reed is the bias crimes investigations coordinator, who collects the data on these incidents.

"All of those incidents have been investigated," Reed said. "Two of them appear to have a bias motive." He didn't give any of the particulars because of the investigations but defined a bias motive as "appears to have a motive of hate," he said.

The criteria Reed listed had to relate to race, sex, ethnic or sexual orientation. Things to be considered may include: derogatory remarks or graffiti, the suspect’s involvement in hate-related groups, any pattern of victimization and the location of the event, i.e. cultural/religious centers.

"The motive has to be established," he said.

At the district station level, patrol officers make the initial report, pass the information on to the criminal investigation unit which conducts an investigation and then passes the information on to Reed. All the investigations adhere to the Federal Bias Crimes initiative under the Department of Justice, according to Reed. One of Reed's jobs is to gather total numbers of combined crimes and incidents, send the crime information to the Virginia State Police.

"The FBI actually gets copies of those from the state police," he said.

According to Reed, 93 bias crimes and incidents occurred in 2002, and 137 in 2001.

THE INCIDENT that police reported in the 7700 block of Telegraph Road between Saturday, May 24, and Tuesday, May 27, was at the First Virginia Bank. Although the bank cleaned up the bulk of the graffiti, some graffiti could still be found spray paint on one of the drive-through window signs. Assistant manager Deven Burden just started at the branch in January but hasn't seen any other type of vandalism or graffiti before that.

"I haven't experienced anything," he said. "It was pretty much cleaned up by the time I got here."

Fairfax County Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jeffrey Gossett noted the procedure they take with potential bias incidents.

"It's investigated just like any other crime, you look for evidence and witnesses," he said.

According to the Fairfax County Web site, bias crimes warrant investigation "in an effort to improve the overall quality of life for all citizens of Fairfax County."

In addition, the National Center for Hate Crime Prevention Education Development Center cites "bias crimes seriously threaten our democratic society, which is built on the strength of its diversity," as part of their police training literature.