The number of hate crimes committed in Los Angeles County rose 15% last year after falling to a 21-year low in 2010, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission announced Wednesday.
The commission's annual report on hate crimes documented 489 incidents in 2011, up from 427 the previous year but far below the peak of 1,031 in 2001.
Last year also saw more than 220 other incidents involving animosity toward victims' race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation that were reported to law enforcement but did not meet the legal definition of a hate crime.
Hate-related events included a verbal confrontation in La Cañada Flintridge and three incidents in La Crescenta, said Sgt. Debra Herman of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station.
In each of those cases, angry people “said something to push the buttons of another person,” but did not make a direct threat of violence, according to Herman.
In La Cañada Flintridge, a man used homophobic slurs during an Aug. 6, 2011, verbal altercation with two residents and an out-of town visitor that started as a road-rage incident.
No other incidents involving hate or prejudice have been reported in La Cañada or La Crescenta this year, Herman said.
“These types of incidents are very unusual in this area,” Herman said.
Two of the hate-related incidents last year in La Crescenta involved statements disparaging Armenian Americans, and one involved homophobic remarks. Each resulted from a verbal confrontation — one stemming from road rage, and two between people who already had standing disagreements with each other.
Slightly more than half of the 2011 hate crimes in L.A. County documented by the Human Relations Commission were violent, including physical assaults, stabbings and attempted shootings. Others included criminal threats, disorderly conduct and vandalism.
Hate crimes related to a victim's perceived sexual orientation had the highest rates of violence, but crimes involving religious intolerance increased at the greatest rate, 24%.
“These numbers can often be lost on people as just numbers, but they are really victims,” said Robin Toma, the commission's executive director.
“Each one of these 489 crimes represents people who have been attacked, injured and offended.”
Nearly half of the 2011 hate crimes were racially motivated, and African Americans were the most frequent targets.
Of 98 suspects identified in 154 hate crimes against African Americans, about two-thirds were Latino and equal numbers were involved with street gangs.
The number of hate crimes in which gang members were suspects increased from 40 in 2010 to 57 in 2011, breaking a three-year downward trend.