July 22, 2024
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Reporting Bias, Protecting The Community

In recent months, things have been undoubtedly tense in Teaneck: Between frequent protests and hateful rhetoric, many Jewish residents have been left feeling on edge, and perhaps even deliberately targeted. There has been a noted surge in antisemitic harassment as well, much of which has been reported to law enforcement and publicized, but there is still some hesitation for some, who wonder if their experiences are all that significant to law enforcement.

“We really urge residents to report all bias incidents,” stated deputy chief of police for the Teaneck Police Department Seth Kriegel. He clarified that there is a difference between a bias incident and a bias crime; bias incidents may not necessarily be classified as bias crimes, which are charged as “Bias Intimidation.” In order for something to be considered a bias crime, a criminal offense must have been committed with bias motivation, and law enforcement must find probable cause to believe that an individual acted with a purpose to intimidate a person based on their protected class.

“Unfortunately, being a bigot is not illegal,” said Deputy Chief Kriegel. “This can often cause frustration from victims who don’t understand why an actor cannot be charged.” Despite the high bar, law enforcement is still interested to hear any and all bias incident reports, “no matter the nature of the underlying offense.”

Two recent occurrences, in which Jewish Teaneck residents experienced antisemitic harassment, demonstrated the importance of filing a report; in both cases, the perpetrators were arrested and charged with Bias Intimidation following a thorough investigation by law enforcement. In the case of Ari**, who spoke with The Jewish Link last month about his encounter with an antisemitic agitator inside ShopRite of Englewood, he was uncertain whether the hateful rhetoric was protected free speech—and also uncertain whether the report would “go anywhere.”

“I wasn’t necessarily interested in going through the process of filing the report,” Ari shared in June. “He didn’t attack me physically, so I didn’t think it would go anywhere. But my rabbi advised me to do the right thing and the next day I went into the police station and made my complaint.” Upon further investigation using security camera footage, the Englewood Police Department deemed the perpetrator’s actions as harassment, and on May 30, Edwin Reyes was arrested and charged with Bias Intimidation.

Zvi** had a similar experience while driving his car in Hackensack. While sitting at a light, a woman pulled her car over and began shouting at Zvi. At first, he wasn’t clear on what she was upset about, but within minutes it became evident that Zvi was targeted for having an Israeli flag attached to the side of his car, which the woman ripped off.

“I took down her license plate number and reported it right away to the Hackensack police,” Zvi shared, later adding that he was encouraged to take action by Chaverim of Bergen County. Zvi recalled that once he filed a report, the police department launched an investigation almost immediately. Within a day or so, Zvi was informed that the woman who harassed him was arrested and charged with Bias Intimidation.

“We deal with this stuff on a daily basis, unfortunately,” said Solomon Itzkowitz, president and chief of Chaverim of Bergen County. “When something like this happens, as with Zvi, the victim should immediately contact the local police department.” Itzkowitz noted that he had similar conversations with Ari following the ShopRite harassment, and that Chaverim was instrumental in the events leading up to the arrest of Reyes in May.

For Zvi, it was important for him to not feel victimized by the situation. “There is a tendency [in the Jewish community] to tell ourselves ‘we’re above that,’ and stay quiet,” he explained. “I wanted to push it—let her deal with the cops and go to trial. We cannot let them intimidate us.”

Deputy Chief Kriegel emphasized the importance of reporting bias incidents to law enforcement when they happen. “It’s vital that the police department have a clear picture of the activity occurring in our community; we cannot police what we don’t know about,” he said. “Incidents of similar nature are often related, and may be perpetrated by the same people. The leads that we develop with one investigation can help us charge individuals responsible in other, perhaps more serious, incidents. Having a true picture of bias incidents, and for that matter, all criminal activity, allows us to better allocate our resources toward combating and preventing crime.”

“We’re already being targeted as a community, and reporting these incidents is important so that police are aware of the threats and can give it the proper consideration,” explained Chana Shields of the Bergen County Jewish Action Committee (BCJAC). Deputy Chief Kriegel confirmed a “significant increase” in the amount of bias incidents this year, underscoring Shields’ point that a rise in cases can only be mitigated by a rise in reporting. “[Reporting] gives us the protection we need,” added Shields.

As Shields has seen in her work with BCJAC, speaking up can come with risks—but more significantly, staying silent has risks as well. “People can be attacked for anything,” she noted. “We know people are scared to report bias incidents and crimes, but it’s very important that we speak up. Law enforcement needs to know what’s going on in our neighborhood and beyond.”

There are many ways to report a bias incident; if reported via Chaverim of Bergen County, the incident is sent to the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, which has a working relationship with Chaverim in protecting the community. A report given to the Teaneck Police Department is handed over to the bias crimes officer, Detective Sergeant Antherson Ramirez, who works with detectives to investigate “each and every incident,” according to Deputy Chief Kriegel. Finally, all bias incident reports are entered in a statewide database, known as the Bias Incident Reporting System, which is also accessed by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

“We urge residents to report all incidents, however minor, as soon as possible,” said Deputy Chief Kriegel. He explained that in addition to filing an in-person report at police headquarters, the police department can be contacted at 201-837-2600. Reports can also be filed online at https://www.teanecknj.gov/policereport. Chaverim of Bergen County can be contacted at 201-800-4357 or online at COBChelp.com.

**Last names withheld upon request.

 

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