The Law - Bias Intimidation
The BCPO Bias Crimes Unit is committed to combatting bias, hate and violence in the community. Under New Jersey law, codified in the New Jersey Criminal Code as Bias Intimidation under section 2C:16-1, certain crimes that are committed with a purpose to intimidate a member of a “protected class” are classified as bias crimes. Protected class status arises from an individual’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity.
Our Duty to Investigate
Bias crimes are taken very seriously by New Jersey law enforcement and the BCPO. They are approached with an understanding that bias incidents require special handling by the law enforcement community. Further, suspected or confirmed bias crimes are investigated in a timely fashion, with special attention paid to victim assistance and community relations in order to reduce victim trauma and community tension or fear.
To that end, Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella has dedicated resources through the BCPO’s Bias Crimes Unit to investigate all incidents of alleged bias crimes and prosecute those responsible for committing these crimes. The Bias Crimes Unit is made up of a chief assistant prosecutor, a back-up assistant prosecutor, one lieutenant, two sergeants, and four detectives. As a team of investigators and assistant prosecutors, the Bias Crimes Unit is responsible for overseeing all of the bias cases throughout Bergen County. The detectives who are assigned to the Bias Crimes Unit are hand-selected from other squads within the BCPO in order to bring different knowledge and skillsets to the table and offer investigative guidance or assistance in some of the more complex cases throughout the 70 municipalities in Bergen County.
Further, each municipal police department has at least one designated “bias officer” who acts as a liaison between his or her department and the Bias Crimes Unit. In addition to its primary functions of investigating and prosecuting bias crimes, the Bias Crimes Unit also provides training on bias crimes interdiction and investigation to county, state and local law enforcement agencies.
In April 2019, the New Jersey State Attorney General issued updated guidelines affecting the investigation and reporting of bias incidents. Since the update to these guidelines, law enforcement has increased reporting compliance and encouraged citizens to come forward to report incidents that may be considered bias.
A “bias incident” is defined in the Attorney General’s Guidelines as any suspected or confirmed offense or unlawful act which occurs against a person or property (public or private) on the basis of New Jersey’s nine protected classes: race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and national origin. Every bias incident reported in New Jersey is reviewed by law enforcement at many levels, including the local police department, New Jersey State Police, County Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness and/or the Attorney General’s Office. These layers of review ensure that bias incidents are investigated thoroughly and properly.
It is important to note that not every bias incident will rise to the level of a criminal offense. For example, certain forms of hate speech, in and of itself may be considered to be protected under one’s First Amendment rights. Other cases may involve a violation of one’s civil rights, but may not necessarily mean that criminal law had been violated. Nonetheless, cases involving hate speech should still be reported to your local police department for assessing potential criminal activity, possible referral to another agency such as the Division of Civil Rights, intelligence gathering and proper data analytics of hateful acts or beliefs within the community.
The electronic system for bias incident report collection is housed by the New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Reporting Unit. Periodically, the NJSP compiles the data received from law enforcement agencies throughout the state and issues publicly-available reports. Both current and historical Bias Incident Reports can be accessed on their website:
Education - Stopping the Progression of Ignorance and Hate
Many of the cases referred to the Bias Crimes Unit are committed by juveniles. Accordingly, the Bias Crimes Unit works very closely with the Juvenile Unit, which prosecutes juvenile offenders in Family Court. However, because the offenders in these cases are young, it is the Bias Crimes Unit’s primary goal to first educate the juveniles on the destructive nature of bias crimes. To that end, many of the Family Court dispositions include corrective measures such as diversionary and educational programs and, if necessary, appropriate punishment.
Bottom Line - We Hear You
Through our interaction with community members, we know that bias incidents—regardless of whether or not they reach the level of a crime—can still hurt entire communities.
To effect such a change, we will be combatting the progression of ignorance and hate through education. Knowledge is power, and as such, we will be broadening the scope of community engagement efforts, with a particular focus on speaking with youth in our schools and reaching marginalized groups to spread the word…
If you would like us to visit your organization to discuss targeted crimes, expressions of hate, or bias-motivated violence affecting your community, please utilize the following link to submit a request:
If you or someone you know may be the victim of a bias-motivated crime…
Do not hesitate to file a report with your local police department.
Report it: To your local police department
Call: Toll Free Hotline (PUBLIC): 1-800-277-BIAS (2427)
Note: Reporting through the Hotline or through the portal can be done anonymously.
REPORT IT Bias Crime Flyers
There are times where actions motivated by hate do not fall within the realm of criminal prosecution. This does not mean that certain behavior is right or acceptable. In such circumstances, other resources may be available for those who are targeted or victimized:
New Jersey Division of Civil Rights:
New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Bias Crime Unit:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a leading anti-hate organization that was founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of antisemitism and bigotry. Today, ADL is the first call when acts of antisemitism occur and continues to fight all forms of hate. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education and fighting hate online, ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.
https://www.adl.org/hate-symbols - Hate on Display™ Hate Symbols Database - This database provides an overview of many of the symbols most frequently used by a variety of white supremacist groups and movements, as well as some other types of hate groups.
https://www.adl.org/resources/tools-to-track-hate/heat-map - ADL H.E.A.T. (Hate, Extremism, Antisemitism, Terrorism) Map is the first-of-its-kind interactive and customizable map detailing hate, extremist and antisemitic incidents by state and nationwide.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.
https://www.splcenter.org/issues/hate-and-extremism - SPLC’s Intelligence Project is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups and other domestic extremists.