WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has brought more federal hate-crime cases this year than in any year since 2001, and an Obama administration official said yesterday that he was "shocked" by the drop-off in prosecutions during the Bush years.
A total of 25 hate-crime cases were filed for the budget year that ended in September, encompassing most of President Obama's first year in office and the last few months of the Bush administration.
In 2001, 31 such cases were filed. The number fell to a low of 12 in 2006, before starting to rise again, reaching 23 in 2008.
"I was rather shocked to see the downtick in prosecutions of hate crimes," said Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.
Perez told reporters that the number of hate crimes did not fall significantly during that period, but refused to say why he thought the federal prosecutions of such cases dropped.
Democrats harshly criticized the civil rights division during George W. Bush's presidency, saying lawyers there were not aggressively investigating hate crimes, housing and employment discrimination, or police misconduct cases.
An internal Justice Department investigation found the division at that time was plagued by improper, politically motivated hiring and personnel decisions.
Perez spoke two days after his division announced federal indictments in its investigation of the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant in Shenandoah, Pa.