Fuzzy math on hate crimes


Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 10:38 p.m.
The annual Florida attorney general's report on hate crimes is released at the end of every year between Christmas and New Year's with a resulting spate of stories written and aired around the state about the perceived rise and/or fall of hate crimes in various counties. But the most important line in the report might be a disclaimer on page 2 that says, in part: "Attempts to rank or categorize any agency, county or region based on the number of reported hate crime incidents would be inappropriate and misleading. Such a ranking or comparison would unfairly penalize those agencies that have vigorous reporting policies by making it appear their jurisdictions are more prone to incidents of hate crimes when, in fact, they are simply doing a better job of reporting incidents."
Exhibit A for this discrepancy is a comparison between Alachua and Leon counties. Both are similar in size - Alachua has 240,000 residents and is home to the University of Florida and Leon has about 267,000 residents as well as Florida State University. But in this year's report on 2004 hate crimes, Alachua reported 39 incidents compared to none in Leon County. Alachua's reported numbers were higher than that of Miami-Dade: the state's largest county with 2.4 million residents. The county that is nearly 10 times the size of Alachua reported 16 hate crimes for 2004. That doesn't reflect more hate or crime in Alachua County, but it does show more diligence in reporting hate crimes.
Jon Peck, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the intent of the annual report is to heighten awareness. "The best way for hate crimes to continue to flourish is for nobody to pay them any attention," he said. "This report shines a light on the subject, and public awareness within the law enforcement community is the best tool to getting people to change the way they think about these things." The report said that of 427 law enforcement agencies in the state, 95 reported hate crimes in 2004, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
Overall, the report showed a 21.5 percent increase in hate crimes in 2004 to 334.
In Marion County, no hate crimes were reported. In Polk County, five hate crimes were reported. In Charlotte County, four hate crimes were reported compared to none in Manatee and one in Sarasota.
Patriot act bad for business? An unlikely warning about unintended effects of the nation's post-9/11 security measures came from Florida TaxWatch last week.
The business-backed group generally monitors tax and fiscal issues in the state. In a report titled "Termites in the Basement," the group says security measures may silently eat away international tourism and investing that sustain Florida's economic growth.
The report cites mostly anecdotal evidence. They mention tougher visa restrictions and other burdens to entry as a drain on the tourism industry and warn of a further drop since foreign tourists tend to spend much more than an American while visiting the state.
The group also asserts that the 10 percent drop in foreign students at the state's universities may be attributed to stiffer entry requirements.
A bit more unexpected is the claim that real estate sales may suffer from "exclusionary visa policies and application of intrusive financial reporting requirements of the U.S.A. Patriot Act." The report says one-in-three new homes in south Florida are sold to a foreigner.
The report doesn't stop there, again mostly relying on anecdotal evidence: Fewer foreigners may come to the state for health care needs, stringent rules may hinder international financial operations in the state and the state's ports are facing tougher times due to longer waits and higher costs for cargo security.
"In our zeal to secure against (terrorist) acts," the report concludes, "we must now allow the security fence that we have erected to become a noose that strangles our economic dynamism."
Gov. Jeb Bush has also expressed similar concerns. Speaking at the annual Americans Conference earlier this year, according to the report, Bush said, "It's important to look at where we are and to make the necessary adjustments so that we don't choke off international travel and international commerce."
Compiled from reports by Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sun Tallahassee Bureau.

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