Sheriff Promises to Maintain Focus
Broward Sheriff’s Office Commander Rick Wierzbicki and Sheriff Al Lamberti lent themselves not only to protecting our local citizens this past year but also to protecting victims of hate crime on a state level. Wierzbicki is head of Broward Country Sheriff’s Office Hate Crimes/Anti-Bias Task Force.
In May both men worked towards protecting the homeless by inclusion under Florida’s hate crimes law. This is quite impressive, as we are only the second state to have enacted such protections.
The new law, passed under Florida House Bill 11, increases state penalties against those who attack the homeless. It went into effect this past October, although it took four years to pass. Due to their diligence in fighting for the rights of homeless in their “own backyard” their efforts were recognized farther a field.
“Because of what we did with House Bill 11 Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) selected officer Lamberti and myself to submit testimony with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) on the protection of the homeless,” said Wierzbicki. Although officers invited to speak were considered on a national level, two of Broward’s own were chosen.
The United States Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs hearing, “Crimes Against the Homeless: Is the Violence Growing?” was held on September 29.
“The NCH believes this was the hearing was the first held by Congress,” Wierzbicki told SFGN about the hour-long trial in which he testified verbally for five minutes. Lamberti was unable to attend, but delivered testimony via a letter. “They had been trying for several years to get the hearing, but it was only realized this year after Senator Cardin had it scheduled.”
The hearing was successful. However, the law was not passed on a Federal level as of yet. The next step will be a hearing before the new Congress some time in 2011. Yet, the two have not stopped to educate the local – and statewide – community about the need to educate to eradicate the numbers of hate crimes reported in Broward County.
Our diverse community came in as leading state numbers for reported hate crimes for the fourth year in a row. Broward Country reported 22 hate crimes, while Miami-Dade numbered 17. Statewide Broward and Miami-Dade tallied the most hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation in the state.
However the Broward Sheriff’s Office promises town halls and other such venues in which to train people to recognize hate crimes, how offenders are punished, help for victims, and to let the community know it’s not only acceptable to report hate crimes, it is their civic duty.
This has been a passion of Officer Lamberti’s since he was appointed sheriff in 2007.
“Broward is the most diverse county in Florida, based on all criteria,” he told SFGN. Those criteria being race, religion, and sexual orientation. “Yet, we also continue to lead the state in hate crimes. How is that possible, I asked, given our diverse residents. This distinction is not something I am proud of, nor should we tolerate.”
Broward is not only the most diverse county, but the population is also led by minority groups – with 49.8 percent of residents identifying as a minority. The Broward Sheriff’s Office plans to hold their next hate crimes education event at the African-American Library in Fort Lauderdale.
“This will be our third one and will take place in Feb 2011. The first one was held at the Pride Center about a year ago. We are going to keep taking it on the road,” said Lamberti. “No one should fear being targeted for a hate crime.”
We should be thankful to not only have Commander Wierzbicki and Officer Lamberti not only making our community safe, but extending the arm of the law to embrace often defenseless individuals.
For more information please visit, Sheriff.org