LOS ANGELES – Hate crimes in Los Angeles County soared last year to their highest mark in five years even as overall crime dropped across the region, according to a report released Thursday.
The annual report by the county's human relations commission shows 763 hate crimes were reported in 2007, a 28 percent increase from 2006.
The numbers buck last year's overall crime trends, which saw a decrease of 6 percent in Los Angeles County and 5 percent in the city of Los Angeles, the report notes.
The most common hate crimes were those motivated by race, with 310 committed against black people and 125 against Latinos. However, crimes in which anti-immigrant slurs were used dropped slightly.
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who had not seen the report, said it is important to remember that hate crimes represent only a tiny percentage of overall crime numbers. She said the increase is likely a reflection of economic times.
"When economic times gets tighter, hate crime violence goes up," she said, adding that child abuse and domestic violence often increase for the same reason.
Gangs are a factor in many hate crimes. In all, 16 percent of hate crimes last year were committed by gang members. According to the report, gang members committed 120 hate crimes last year, an increase of 14 percent from 2006.
The extent to which race is driving the area's gang crisis is a subject of ongoing debate. Sheriff Lee Baca has said he considers it a major factor, while Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton and other officials downplay suggestions of racial tension.
The report notes that friction between black and Latino residents continues to be a major instigator of hate crimes. There were 116 hate crimes unrelated to gangs that were committed by Latinos against blacks and 26 such crimes committed by blacks against Latinos.
The report states that white supremacist activity continues to be "surprisingly high," with 131 hate crimes showing evidence of being committed by white racists.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, for every hate crime that is reported to police, as many as 28 are not reported, often for fear of retaliation or concerns about talking to authorities.
The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations has compiled an annual hate crimes report since 1980.