WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Obama administration's new civil rights chief said Thursday that he was "shocked" to learn of the steep decline in hate-crime prosecutions during the Bush presidency and vowed to combat violence stemming from hatred and bias.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, newly confirmed head of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, said that 25 hate-crime cases have been filed this year, the largest number since 2001. He produced statistics showing the number of hate-crime cases had peaked at 49 in 1996 had dwindled to 12 in 2006.
He declined to speculate on the reasons, but another civil rights official said hate-crime enforcement "was clearly not a priority of the previous administration."
Perez said he plans to hire more than 100 employees, including more than 50 attorneys, to beef up enforcement of civil rights laws. That includes enforcing the new provision of the hate-crimes law that expands its protections to people targeted because of their sexual orientation.