Hate crimes and incidents increased last year in San Diego County, with the victim's race, religion and sexual orientation -- in that order -- the target of those attacks.
The FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics report for 2017 reveals three local cities had an especially high ratio of reported hate crimes to population.
Carlsbad had seven reported incidents last year, and El Cajon and Oceanside each had six incidents, according to the FBI’s latest report.
The county’s unincorporated area had 14 reported hate crimes and incidents, the second highest number in the state, behind rural Los Angeles County's 15 reported incidents.
Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh, lead prosecutor for the D.A.’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents in San Diego increased slightly more than the national average.
Trinh said hate crimes are on the rise nationwide, in part because of an increase in hate speech in social media and other public forums.
“The greater the frequency of hate speech, the greater the frequency of hate crimes,” Trinh told NBC 7.
The prosecutor said he often sees repeat offenders in hate crimes, which can make it easier to document bias and hatred as a motive and help win a conviction.
But Trinh says hate crimes can be hard to prove, because victims often don't know, or see, their attacker. That can limit the number of cases that make it to court and end with guilty verdicts or plea bargains.
Of the 25 alleged hate crimes referred by local law enforcement for prosecution last year, Trinh said his office rejected eight cases, filed 13 cases as hate crimes and four more as non-hate crimes.
The prosecutor said most local victims are targeted for their race, with African-Americans accounting for 60 percent of victims in local race-based hate crimes.
Trinh said Jews are the target of half of all religion-based hate crimes.
He also said he’s “shocked” that only 2,000 of more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide reported hate crimes or incidents in their communities last year.
"We have agencies in our county that are very small, and they report incidents that occur,” Trinh said. “So I know they're happening, and I find it hard to believe that none are occurring” in so many other communities across the nation.
Nationally, hate crimes across the United States spiked 17 percent in 2017 — marking a rise for the third straight year — with a 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, according to an FBI report released Tuesday.