A digital ad in the Portland International Jetport encourages hate crime victims to come forward to local law enforcement. Credit: Courtesy Federal Bureau of Investigations Boston Division

PORTLAND, Maine — The Boston Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is “actively enhancing” its resources to investigate hate crimes in New England.

To help, the FBI wants Mainers and others in New England to report hate crimes to state and local law enforcement. The agency is targeting Bangor, Lewiston, Augusta and Portland and plans to place ads in billboards, gas stations, social media and radio encouraging victims to come forward through local police and a tip line.

“One of the things we’re trying to do in this public awareness campaign is to make sure folks understand that regardless of their immigration status, we’re just worried about the victims,” said Boston Division’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge Matthew Giacobbi.

Over the last two years, there has been a significant uptick in the number of immigrants detained in Maine by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, another federal law enforcement agency.

The agency wants to reduce “underreporting” of hate crimes because of immigration fears, Giacobbi said.

“We know that some people are afraid to come forward because of a fear or distrust of law enforcement, fear due to their immigration status, or a fear of retribution from their attacker,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, in a statement. “We understand that, but please know that hate crimes are a huge priority for the FBI, and we are surging resources to address this problem.”

The campaign echoes national efforts by regional FBI divisions to work more closely with state and local law enforcement agencies to stop rising hate crimes, according to the agency. They plan to bring in “subject matter experts” and train local law enforcement officers and conduct outreach efforts with religious institutions, minority associations and community groups, according to Giacobbi.

The FBI investigated 7,759 nationwide hate crimes in 2020, a 25 percent increase over the last five years. There were 426 such reports in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, roughly consistent with the 427 reported in 2019.

There were 83 hate crimes reported in Maine in 2020. Of the 46 known offenders, 44 were white and two were listed by the FBI as having “multiple” ethnicities.

The FBI can jointly investigate hate crimes and domestic terrorism charges. In 2019, the FBI established the Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell, which is comprised of subject matter experts in the criminal and counterterrorism programs.