One week after city councilmembers and other elected officials unveiled a proposal to open a city office dedicated to hate crimes, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced his office is creating a Hate Crimes Bureau.
The bureau will allow the DA’s Office to conduct more thorough investigations and spend extra time connecting with vulnerable communities, educating them on ways to protect themselves from attacks, according to Gonzalez.
The push for a stronger focus on hate crimes at the city level and in Brooklyn coincides with an increase in hate crimes across the five boroughs. The Brooklyn DA’s current hate crimes unit has handled more than 70 cases within the last two years, and LGBTQ people have been targeted the most. Jewish and black people are the second and third-most targeted groups, respectively.
Previously, hate crimes were handled by the Civil Rights Bureau, and a new bureau focused on hate crimes represents an upgrade in the office’s focus on such offenses. The Brooklyn DA’s Office currently has a hotline for those who have been victims of hate crimes.
The DA’s Office is planning to assign senior prosecutors to the new bureau and task them with more responsibility to investigate cases from the very beginning. The prosecutors will interview victims and suspects at the scene and explore ways to add hate crime enhancements to the charges, if necessary.
Brooklyn City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who is the borough’s first openly gay councilmember, said the fact that the office needs to be created in the first place reflects “new and alarming realities.”
“I think the DA is responding correctly to what is going on and my office will support his efforts in any way possible,” he said.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Kelli Muse, who previously served as the deputy chief of the Civil Rights Bureau and the hate crimes unit, will be the chief of the bureau, while Senior Assistant District Attorney Ari Farkas will be deputy chief. Peter Choi, Prabhalya Pulim, Maggie Dunbar, and Adrianna Rodriguez will also be on the bureau’s staff.