Unprecedented Increase Expected in Upcoming FBI Hate Crime Report

Posted by Kai Wiggins on October 31, 2018 in Blog


Introduction: A Nationwide Increase Expected

On Tuesday, November 13, the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program will release national hate crime statistics for 2017. But thanks to research from AAI on state UCR hate crime statistics already available, we have a sense of what the federal data will show.

As in 2016 and 2015 before, we expect yet another increase of reported hate crime incidents in 2017, representing the first three-year consecutive annual increase since 2001.

So far, AAI has collected 2017 hate crime data from 27 states and the District of Columbia, with all but seven reporting increases over 2016 totals recorded in FBI statistics. Combined, data from the 27 states and DC account for 6,213 incidents, which exceeds the nationwide total of 6,121 recorded in 2016.

As for the remaining 23 states yet to release 2017 hate crime data, those states accounted for a total of 1,495 hate crime incidents according to FBI statistics in 2016. Provided the 2017 data remain relatively consistent with 2016 totals in those states, we could see one of the most significant single-year increases ever recorded in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. We should include the additional qualification that, for one reason or another, state-level hate crime statistics do not always reflect the federal data. These discrepancies occur despite the fact that in most states, the FBI UCR program receives data from state UCR programs, which are generally responsible for collecting data from reporting law enforcement agencies and publishing annual statistics.

For example, our research into state-level statistics last year detected 78 anti-Arab hate crime incidents reported in 2016, whereas according to the FBI, just 51 anti-Arab hate crime incidents occurred. So, while we have collected over 100 anti-Arab hate crime incidents reported in 2017 statistics from 27 states and DC, we cannot be sure that such an increase will be reflected in the federal data.


A Surge in Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes

Similarly, we have collected data on 630 anti-Jewish hate crime incidents from statistics in 27 states and DC. Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts, four of the top six states in terms of Jewish population, are not represented in this total as they have yet to release 2017 statistics. In 2016, these states reported over 250 anti-Jewish hate crime incidents combined, representing a significant portion of the 684 incidents reported nationwide. Based on these considerations, we are predicting a reported increase of anti-Jewish hate crime incidents in the FBI’s 2017 statistics.

As recent events have made painfully clear, the expected increase of anti-Jewish hate crime incidents should not come as a surprise. Last week’s tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., which is being treated as a federal hate crime, is but a single extreme manifestation of the burgeoning anti-Semitism in communities across the United States. And as we noted in our statement  following the violence in Pittsburgh, “tangled and deep run the roots of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in this country.” These hatreds entwine in our history and our present; where one inflames, the others follow.

This was perhaps no more evident than in August 2017, when neo-Nazis and white supremacists converged on the city of Charlottesville, and where the snarled hatreds of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism were on full display. While multiple incidents of bias-motivated violence, destruction, or intimidation were likely committed in Charlottesville on the weekend of August 10-12, the most severe occurred when a man plowed his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one woman and injuring many others. The driver, James Alex Fields, Jr., was indicted this summer on federal hate crime charges in the death of Heather Heyer. He is currently awaiting trial.

As we saw in Charlottesville last year and again in Pittsburgh just last week, this burgeoning anti-Semitism, and with it a nationwide increase of reported hate crime incidents, should not come as a surprise. What should, however, is that even in spite of our predictions for an annual increase in 2017, we know that many incidents will not be reflected in the FBI’s hate crime statistics due out in two weeks. The death of Heather Heyer is probably one of them.


The Problem of Inaccurate Data

According to annual statistics from the Virginia State Police, a total of 202 hate crime incidents were reported throughout the state in 2017, representing an 82 percent increase over FBI data from the previous year. A public records request revealed that none of these reported incidents correspond to the events in Charlottesville last summer. In other words, as reported in official hate crime statistics, Charlottesville never happened.   

In most states, including Virginia, reporting agencies submit hate crime data to a state-level centralized repository, which then forwards the data to the FBI. Therefore, the omission from state-level statistics all but guarantees Charlottesville will not be reflected in federal hate crime statistics unless a revision is made prior to publication.   

Concerns over data quality and accuracy extend to multiple states other than Virginia. State-level hate crime statistics from Nevada and Kentucky also suggest the pending FBI statistics will not reflect the true nature and extent of hate crime in those states.  

In Nevada, the Records Bureau within the Department of Public Safety decided not to publish hate crime statistics in its most recent crime report after receiving just five incidents through its data collection system in 2017. None of these incidents were reported by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which is the nation’s fifth largest police department in terms of population served. In recent years, the department has reported as many as 73 hate crime incidents per year.  

The Records Bureau attributes the “squirrely” 2017 data to the state’s current transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) from the antiquated summary reporting format, which the FBI intends to retire before 2021. Compared to summary reporting, NIBRS represents a “more comprehensive and detailed data collection,” the transition to which President Obama, writing in the January 2017 edition of Harvard Law Review, identified as a significant component of criminal justice reform.  

Currently, only 17 states have fully transitioned to incident-based reporting, including Kentucky. As the state’s 2017 hate crime statistics show, however, transitioning to NIBRS does not automatically guarantee more accurate data.  


Significant Errors in Kentucky

According to annual crime statistics from the Kentucky State Police, a total of 785 hate crime incidents were reported throughout the state in 2017, representing a 280 percent increase over FBI data from the previous year. At the center of this increase was an apparent surge of hate crimes targeting Native Americans, with Kentucky reporting more than twice the national total of “Anti-American Indian or Alaska Native” incidents published in 2016 FBI statistics.  

After we contacted the Kentucky State Police, the department has since gone back into the data and determined that many of these incidents were misreported. When submitting crime data through NIBRS, reporting officers must indicate whether a bias motivation appeared to be present in the commission of an offense. In addition to a range of designated bias motivation categories (Anti-Black or African American, Anti-Jewish, Anti-Transgender, etc.), officers can select either “None,” when no apparent bias motivation was present, or “Unknown.” The selections are made on a dropdown tab, where the categories are listed alphabetically with “None” at the top of the list and “Unknown” at the bottom. When attempting to select “None” in the dropdown menu, it looks like some officers mistakenly selected the next available item: “Anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native.” (Kentucky’s is slightly different than the federal designation of “Anti-American Indian or Alaska Native.)  

As a result, state-level statistics suggest a meteoric surge of hate crimes targeting Native Americans occurred in Kentucky last year. The increase is so dramatic that unless the data are quickly revised, the FBI statistics will show an increase of at least 100 percent in the number of hate crimes targeting Native Americans reported nationwide.   

Reporting errors of this nature are potentially even more damaging than the undercounts demonstrated in Virginia, Nevada, and numerous other states. The FBI’s hate crime statistics have been described as “the single most important national source of information about the problem of hate violence in America, and an essential resource for criminologists, policymakers and analysts,” not to mention advocates and members of targeted or vulnerable communities. Not only do inaccurate numbers risk provoking fear and community unrest, they also threaten the perceived integrity of the entire reporting system. But if we write off the data, we write off the victims of incidents that were accurately reported. And if we give up on improving the data, we give up on the victims of incidents that were not reported but should have been.  

Fortunately, the Kentucky State Police has been swift in its response to not only correct the data, but also improve its reporting format to ensure against similar errors in the future. If we are lucky, the FBI’s statistics will reflect these revisions. But this is only one state, and more must be done to improve the nation’s hate crime reporting and data collection system. 


Conclusion: Looking Ahead in 2019

When AAI releases our 2019 Hate Crime Index next month, we will provide state-specific policy recommendations to improve our collective response to hate crime. But the federal government must lead this effort. Ultimately, the nationwide transition to NIBRS will promote more accurate, detailed hate crime statistics, but only if those using the system have received adequate training. The federal government must therefore prioritize funding and training assistance for agencies and states making the switch. This assistance should be specifically designated for the promotion of improved reporting and data collection under the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990.  

Furthermore, the Department of Justice must continue to demonstrate its commitment to hate crime prevention. We welcome Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recent announcement of a new government website for hate crime information, something AAI and our partners have been advocating for over a decade. However, despite a written request from AAI, the department will not be coordinating a public event for the Nov. 13 release of the FBI’s 2017 hate crime statistics, as was customary prior to the Trump Administration. This is a missed opportunity.

Based on state and local statistics, we have a sense of what the federal data will show. But regardless of what is or is not reported in the FBI’s hate crime statistics next month, we know there is work to be done.