MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – When someone first reported a banner reportedly hung by a white supremacist group on the Vauxhall Street Extension overpass in New London police didn’t realize what it meant until they researched it. They then contacted the new Hate Crimes Unit which works out of a room on the second floor at the State Police Headquarters in Middletown.

“When you have a hate crime those hate words affect entire cultures,” said James Rovella, Commissioner of the CT Department of Public Safety.

The unit has been collecting information on hate speech and acts with the hopes of being able to prevent hate crimes and better investigate those that do happen.

“Hate speech does not necessarily go and hurt individuals but a certain percentage starts to move in that direction,” said Sen. Saud Anwar who co-sponsored the bill which was signed into law by Governor Lamont.

“The legislation that we are signing today requires the development of a reporting system, creating best practices, and a model investigation policy for law enforcement units to use when these types of crimes are suspected,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.

It is still a work in progress with its own advisory council studying ways to make it most effective.

“How to better investigate, prosecute, sentence, deal with hate crimes on a variety of levels,” said Judge Douglas Lavine, Co-chair of the Hate Crimes Advisory Council.

According to FBI statistics, Connecticut saw 101 hate crimes reported in 2020.

61 were directed against an individual’s race, ethnicity, or ancestry; 17 involved religion; 15 involved sexual orientation; and 8 involved disability or multiple biases.

The hate crimes unit was established back in October and in February it was fully staffed. There are now two detectives and two sergeants on the team who network with law enforcement throughout the state.

Much of their work is done online.

“Some of these folks are extremely detectable and that’s what our aim is here,” said Commissioner Rovella.

“I hope that we come to a point where we don’t need a unit like this,” said Sen. Anwar.

But for now, they believe they do.