The Trouble With Hate Crime Statistics: Not Enough Jurisdictions Participate
Local law enforcement agencies across the country reported a total of 6,121 hate crimes in 2016, as reflected in annual statistics provided by the FBI. But the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the federal government, puts that number closer to 250,000 a year -- a wide discrepancy that underscores the fundamental problem with the way the stats are tallied.
Since 1990, the FBI has been required to track crimes motivated by race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. It gathers the information it needs from local police departments. As this investigative report from ProPublica points out, however, the information is only as good as the agencies willing to report. And that number, as well as the information being provided, is often insufficient.
15,000 local agencies participate in the program, which means there are thousands of departments not participating at all. Among those that do, hate crimes are often categorized incorrectly. Sometimes, they slip through the cracks and aren’t handed over to the FBI.
Confusion surrounding the definition of a hate crime and the parties responsible for determining the classification (e.g. responding officers or prosecutors) is also common.
According to ProPublica, federal and state governments are doing little to correct the problem. What’s at risk isn’t just the integrity of the statistics or our knowledge of how many crimes are being motivated by hate. Our ability to learn from the crimes is also hindered, which makes prevention efforts next to impossible.