Untold number of U.S. hate crimes go unreported by Feds

The Department of Justice reported about 250,000 hate crimes annually from 2004 to 2015. The FBI’s hate crime statistics from those years only reported between 5,500 to 7,800.

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April 15, 2019 03:56
4 minute read.
FBI investigator

An FBI investigator . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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An untold number of hate crimes have gone unreported throughout the US, including hate crimes investigated by the FBI, according to Investigate TV. This means that the FBI is failing to fulfill its legal requirement by the Hate Crime Statistics Act to report all hate crimes they investigate to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

A hate crime is defined by the UCR program as “a committed criminal offense that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias(es) against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Investigate TV analyzed 10 years of the Justice Department’s news releases about hate crimes it had prosecuted. It found that at least 65 high-profile cases of prosecuted hate crimes were never put into the federal database. These unreported crimes include beatings, shootings, bombings, arson, murders and kidnappings.

In a similar effort, BuzzFeed News requested public records for all incidents of aggravated-assault crimes from 30 police departments that reported no hate crimes between 2012 and 2016. In six departments in Texas and Florida, BuzzFeed identified assaults that arguably should have been recorded as hate crimes. Other cities across 12 other states failed to respond, provided reports without descriptive narratives or demanded exceedingly high fees to search their records. Huntsville, Alabama, demanded $16,000 in fees, saying that the request would “constitute an excessive burden on personnel.”

The Department of Justice reported that US residents experienced about 250,000 hate crimes on average each year from 2004 to 2015. The FBI’s hate crime statistics from those years only reported between 5,500 to 7,800 hate crime in each year.

The DOJ also reported that about half of the crimes it counted as hate crimes were not reported to police and therefore wouldn’t be in the FBI’s statistics. However, this still leaves at least 117,200 cases that were not reported by law enforcement agencies, even though they were reported to police.

Take this case: On August 12, 2017, James Fields Jr. drove into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman. He was indicted on 29 counts of violating federal hate crime law and charged with murder, but Charlottesville reported that no hate crimes had occurred in August.

Of the 100 largest law enforcement agencies that reported zero or very few hate crimes in 2016, or didn’t report at all, there were some very questionable appearances. Houston’s Police Department, for example, which served over 2 million people, only reported eight crimes. The Baltimore County Police Department which serves over 830,000 people, reported a grand total of one hate crime.

In another surprising case, the Anne Arundel County Police, which serves half a million people in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, reported zero hate crimes to the FBI between 2012 and 2015. When the department sent ProPublica 68 pages of reports for 2012 to 2016, they found that county police had responded to well over 100 incidents, including many cases with evidence of a motivation based on bias.

This happens because although the FBI is required to report hate crime numbers, local and state agencies are not required to do so; for them, reporting hate crimes is voluntary.


About one in five local agencies do not take part in the FBI’s data collection program. Of the law enforcement agencies in the US that did report hate crimes to the FBI, more than 87% reported that there had been no such crimes.

“The current statistics are a complete and utter joke,” Roy Austin, a former deputy assistant attorney-general in the DOJ’s civil rights division, told ProPublica – a news agency that leads the Documenting Hate project, which collects and verifies reports on hate crimes with a coalition of news organizations and civil rights organizations, along with reports submitted by individuals.

The Documenting Hate project began because of the lack of reliable national data on hate crimes. ProPublica has used the data they’ve collected to push law enforcement agencies to accurately report and effectively combat hate crimes.

Only 12 states require police academies to provide hate-crime training – and even in these states, it can sometimes last only half an hour.

Although many police departments across the US have used data collection as an extremely effective method of dealing with and preventing crime, hate crime data collection has remained a clear exception. As of January, only 28 states had laws requiring some form of data collection on hate crimes.

Not reporting hate crimes accurately can make preventing these crimes extremely hard, Cynthia Deitle – a former FBI agent who now works as the programs and operations director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a Denver-based organization that works on hate-related issues – told Investigate TV.

“You can’t think about support services; you can’t think about prevention,” Phyllis Gerstenfeld, a hate crimes researcher at California State University, Stanislaus, told BuzzFeed. “You can’t address a problem if you don’t even know what the problem is.”

The FBI reported a 17% rise in hate crimes in 2017 compared to 2016. The lack of accurate reporting of such crimes could mean that this rise is minuscule compared to how many incidents occurred but simply went undocumented.

Investigate TV tried for seven months to get an answer from the FBI concerning their lack of reporting. They finally received an email response saying that the FBI hoped to start fully reporting in the next few years.

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