Acting Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll and members of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Bias Crimes Unit hosted a virtual community forum on January 25.
They were joined by Middlesex County Department of Corrections and Youth Services Chief Investigator and President of the New Jersey State Bias Crimes Officers Association, David D'Amico.
Chief D’Amico explained how a foundation of ignorance can escalate into acts of discrimination or violence, and that education is the key to breaking down stereotypes about different groups of people.
Explaining the law enforcement perspective, investigations of potential bias incidents are based on three factors – recognizing, responding and reporting.
Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Samantha DeNegri explained the importance of educating our youth regarding bias crimes and incidents. She urged the public not to overlook and to report bias behavior to the proper authorities.
While not every circumstance may rise to the level of a bias incident or crime, they may be harassment, criminal mischief, or other infractions.
A majority of reported bias incidents involve juveniles, said Detective Supervisor LaGuerre. Reports of bias incidents have increased due to the rise of online activity during the COVID-19 emergency.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office has taken a preventative approach, holding assemblies at schools and virtually to educate students on the importance of exercising good judgment when it comes to what you post online or share with friends.
Detective Supervisor LaGuerre welcomed school administrators to reach out to his office if they had any questions or wished to host educational programs for their students.
Panelists took numerous questions from the public on the role that municipal departments play, whether a bias incident could be based on politics, law enforcement training to recognize potential bias crimes and other topics.
“What we encourage the young people to do is speak up. I have seen the new generations display such courage to challenge offensive conduct or statements," Acting Prosecutor Carroll said. "In athletics, it can be said in the course of good sportsmanship, or perhaps in the course of simply a dialogue. If someone says something off-color or offensive, stand up and say to that person, not necessarily in a counter-insulting way, but make it clear '… we don’t appreciate that.' It will make a difference.”
“Especially during these unprecedented and challenging times, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office will continue to work with our law enforcement and community partners to ensure that every resident feels welcome and safe in Morris County.”