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Hate crimes on the rise in the SCV

Posted: June 20, 2009 8:51 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A 45-year-old Latino man from Simi Valley and his family parked at a Canyon Country park-and-ride stop to use a restroom earlier this month when a man who later described himself as a Nazi charged at him, shouting racial slurs and swinging a baseball bat.

The victim suffered injuries to his hands and face, according to a recent Sheriff's Department report. The alleged attacker, Russell Breton of Canyon Country, shouted that he was a Nazi, along with a torrent of other racial slurs, after deputies put him in the back of a patrol car, the report stated.

Hate crimes in the Santa Clarita Valley are on track to reach the highest levels since 2006, according to sheriff's statistics.

So far this year, 13 hate crimes have been reported in the Santa Clarita Valley. In comparison, 16 hate crimes were reported in all of 2008 and 15 in all of 2007 - 2006 saw 29 hate crimes in the SCV.

While most of the hate crimes targeted victims because of race, crimes against people based on sexual orientation have risen steadily in the SCV since 2006.

Property crimes like vandalism and arson dominated the numbers. Only a few of the crimes involved physical violence - an average of about four a year since 2006.

Officials could not provide exact statistics about which races, ethnicities and religions were the most-targeted locally.

In the most recent state and county reports, blacks were by far the most frequently targeted racial group for hate crimes, Jews the most targeted religious group, and gay men were the most likely to suffer a hate crime for their sexual orientation.

Those trends are reflected in the SCV, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Detective Chris Keeling, who investigates the majority of hate crimes reported here.

He said no one group seems to be singled out beyond that.

"They all seem to be pretty random, opportunistic kinds of crimes," he said. "Those that involve assaults or batteries seem to be more influenced more by other factors (besides) race or religion."

The vast majority, he said, involve vandalism - things like spray-painted swastikas on cars or on walls.

Crimes throughout the valley also vary by community. For instance, racial tensions between blacks and Latinos in Newhall might give rise to more crimes than in Castaic or Valencia, the detective said.

Breton, the suspect in the alleged park-and-ride attack, remains under investigation, Keeling said. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has not yet charged him with any crimes.

Elsewhere in the state and county, clashes between race-based gangs have led to an uptick in violent hate crimes, particularly between blacks and Latinos, according to the reports released by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and the California Department of Justice.

The Santa Clarita Valley does not mirror this trend, Keeling said.

The SCV Sheriff's Station and the city of Santa Clarita have set up community outreach programs to combat hate crimes. Officials with those programs could not be reached for comment Friday.

While some crimes seem clearly motivated by race, not every one of the numbers necessarily represents a true act of bigotry, Detective Keeling said.

For instance, two people of different races could get into a road-rage fight and shout slurs at one another. That doesn't necessarily mean racial tensions sparked the fight in the first place, he said.

"Sometimes those crimes get written as a hate crime really because of words the suspects and the victims use," Keeling said.

"Everything that looks like a hate crime isn't (necessarily) a hate crime."

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