The Nassau County district attorney’s office has launched a unit of prosecutors to tackle hate crimes more aggressively.
Caryn Stepner, the deputy chief of the office’s County Court Bureau who won a racially charged murder case as a Brooklyn prosecutor, will lead the new Hate Crimes Unit, Nassau DA Madeline Singas announced Monday.
The move comes amid a spate of racist and anti-Semitic threats of violence across the nation and follows the appearance of bigoted graffiti in Nassau County in recent months.
“Crimes motivated by hate and intolerance are especially despicable and the creation of this unit underscores our commitment to aggressively prosecute these offenses,” Singas said.
Tracy Keeton, a senior trial attorney with “extensive hate crimes prosecutorial experience,” will assist Stepner in the unit, the DA’s office said in a news release.
The pair will be able to collaborate with other Nassau prosecutors and investigators as they deal with every hate crime case that comes through the office, Miriam Sholder, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said in an email.
Nassau joins the Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island DA’s offices in establishing a unit or bureau dedicated to hate crimes.
The county has prosecuted 13 hate crimes in the past three years, Sholder said.
The DA’s office already had a hate crimes prosecutor, but the new unit will provide more “dedicated resources” to work toward successful convictions, Sholder said.
“[G]iven the troubling rise in reports of hate speech and crimes throughout our region, the District Attorney believed it was important to redouble our efforts with a formal unit to ensure these despicable crimes are a clear enforcement priority,” Sholder said in the email.
Bias crimes in Nassau County dropped last year compared with 2015, police have said, but New York City saw a spike in hate crimes following President Donald Trump’s election in November.
In recent months, graffiti containing swastikas and racial epithets have been spotted in Mineola, Port Washington and at Nassau Community College in Garden City.
Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview was evacuated Tuesday after a bomb threat was called in there.
Stepner came to Nassau County from the Brooklyn DA’s office, where she won a conviction of Lee Van Glahn, a serial killer who targeted African-American and Latina prostitutes.
She will continue to serve as deputy chief of the County Court Bureau, which prosecutes all felony cases carrying possible penalties of at least a year in jail.
Isma Chaudhry, a Manhasset resident and the president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, said the establishment of a dedicated hate crimes unit is a “very positive step” that reassures targeted groups.
“It helps the communities understand that the law enforcement agencies are standing with them, protecting them,” Chaudhry said.