Gov. Ned Lamont signs the bill (Courtesy of CTN).

Connecticut officials cited the racially-motivated murder of 10 people in Buffalo earlier this month as evidence of a rise in hate crimes during a Tuesday ceremony codifying a specialized Hate Crime Investigative Unit within the state police.

Gov. Ned Lamont held a ceremonial bill signing event at the state Emergency Services and Public Protection Department headquarters in Middletown. Although the agency proactively established the unit last year, the bill puts the Hate Crime Investigations Unit in state statute. 

Policymakers hope the unit can among other things sift through internet posts to detect and prevent crimes in which people are targeted based on their race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

“We want to be very clear that hate has no home in Connecticut,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said during the ceremony. 

James Rovella, commissioner of the public protection department, said the unit has been staffed with a sergeant and two detectives, who have been busy since October. Just over 100 hate crimes were reported in Connecticut during 2020, the most recent year in which federal statistics were available.

Rovella said one goal of the unit was to encourage more information sharing between law enforcement entities in order to detect red flags. He said the 18 year-old man accused of killing 10 people at a Tops grocery store in New York less than two weeks ago had signaled his aspirations online before acting.

“He wrote his manifesto, he planned, and at one point he became operational to actually commit the crime,” Rovella said. “Some of these folks are extremely detectable and that’s what our aim is here.”

During Tuesday’s event, the governor told reporters he was initially skeptical of the need for a specialized unit devoted to hate crimes but had changed his position based on a rise incidents following the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

“I think these crimes are committed by a somewhat unique breed of cat. They often leave their digital fingerprints and have a different way of shouting from the rooftops,” Lamont said. “A special unit can work across all the different silos, work across the region and track down this virus called racism and they leave a lot of telltales all over the Internet.”