A perceived increase around the nation in crimes and other incidents motivated by prejudice is prompting a number of communities to pay more attention to the problem. Specific bias units within city human relations offices and police departments are still rare but becoming more common, according to Adele Dutton Terrell, acting director of the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence at the University of Maryland. San Francisco's new police chief, for instance, added a special bias unit just a few weeks ago.
One spur that should help such efforts to treat bias incidents as a special category of crime, says Ms. Terrell, is the new federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act. Under it, the FBI will ask local police departments to tabulate bias crimes separately in the figures they give federal authorities.
Terrell says that in her professional opinion the number of hate crimes is up: ``I think things are getting worse ... but we have no hard and fast data to prove it.''
In addition to filling that gap, the new federal move should alert police to neighborhoods that have persistent bias problems, she says. It should also help communities that deny they have a bias problem, with tourism and investments in view, to recognize that they may need to make some changes, Terrell adds.
Recently Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City held day-long, citywide summits on the rising problem of prejudice in their midst and strategies for dealing with it.
Baltimore's summit on Nov. 30 lasted 12 hours. Many of the 2,000 who attended had no particular group affiliation and seized the opportunity to speak. ``The dialogue was very frank and open,'' says Tom Saunders, a summit spokesman with Baltimore's Community Relations Commission.