FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – Protecting the homeless became a priority for the Broward Sheriff’s Office after a deadly attack on a homeless man near Fort Lauderdale in 2006.
At a news conference Friday, Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said the agency’s work to push for a law that made attacks against the homeless a hate crime is setting a standard nationwide and reducing the amount of attacks on the homeless in Florida.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am of this agency’s accomplishments over the past four years dealing with homelessness and hate crimes in Broward County,” Lamberti said.
The impetus was surveillance video from 2006 that shocked and sickened South Florida and the rest of the country. It showed a group of Broward teens taking baseball bats to a homeless man. Later, the teens would also be accused of killing another homeless man — Norris Gaynor. The attacks shined a spotlight on Broward County and showed that Broward led the state of Florida in hate crimes.
“We said we’re not gonna be proud of it,” Lamberti said. “We’re not gonna tolerate it.”
At the news conference, Lamberti said the National Coalition for the Homeless concluded that the hate crimes legislation passed in 2010 played a key role in reducing the amount of hate crimes against homeless people in Florida.
Lamberti also said that the Florida Attorney General’s Office also concluded in its’ Hate Crimes Report that Broward County no longer leads the state in reported hate crimes.
“This is the result of a lot of hard work over the last five years,” Lamberti told reporters.
Captain Rick Wierzbicki, who led BSO’s Hate Crimes/Anti-Bias Task Force, says BSO made dealing with the homeless a priority.
“Sheriff Lamberti set the tone that we treat them with respect and dignity and I think that’s one of the biggest accomplishments,” he said.
Lamberti said the agency’s work with the homeless has also reduced the number of homeless people in the Broward County Jail. He said the number of homeless inmates has dropped from more than 400 five years ago to just a handful today.
The impact of the attack on Norris Gaynor at Esplanade Park is still being felt across the country. Sheriff Lamberti says other states want to pass similar legislation protecting homeless people and making attacks on them a hate crime. He says he is now working with the state of New Mexico to create a similar law.