Gilbert PD focuses on diversity while investigating harassment of gay couple

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

GILBERT, Ariz. -- Outraged by months of harassment and frustrated that no arrests have been made, a gay Gilbert couple said they are now getting some much appreciated support from the city.

Felix Bermea and his family moved into their Gilbert neighborhood last November and he said the harassment started in March.

“This is absolute terrorism for my kids,” said Bermea. “When we're talking about arson, vandalism, breaking in and trespassing, there is a lot of hate behind that.”

And Felix believes his family is being singled out.

“I do believe this is a hate crime there is no question in my mind about it,” said Bermea. “We are a gay family, I am Hispanic and my daughter is disabled.”

Gilbert Police has two hate crime detectives working the case and has increased its presence in the neighborhood.

“The goal is to saturate the area with patrol officers, get as much info as we can with a door to door canvass with detectives and see who we can hold responsible for these events,” said Sgt. Bill Balafas.

The department is also appointing a part time diversity officer, increasing training, and planning to launch a diversity task force to investigate this harassment.

They are steps the Anti-Defamation League applauds.

“It's very important they are sensitive to just how threatening a hate crime is. Hate crimes do something no other crime does, it sends a message,” said ADL Director Bill Straus. “The message is you're different we don't want you here, get out or else.”

But this family doesn't want to move, they just want the hate to stop.

“My focus is the security of my children and safety of my children,” said Bermea.

While Gilbert Police do have hate crime detectives looking into this case, it’s important to realize you can’t be guilty of just a hate crime. That's a designation that is assigned during the prosecution of another crime. 

For example, in this case the suspect may be guilty of arson or harassment and that hate crime designation can result in much stiffer penalties.