The United States has been an international leader in the effective monitoring of violent hate crimes, through the incorporation of extensive reporting of these crimes through the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) system. National hate crime monitoring was set in motion by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 (HCSA) which requires the Attorney General to collect data “about crimes that manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” The HCSA was amended in 1994 with the passage of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which obliged the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect statistics also on bias crime based on “disabilities,” both physical and mental.
The FBI’s annual reporting on hate crimes, generally released each November, has provided Congress and the states with the empirical data needed to inform strong and effective crime-control policy and lawmaking. For example, the UCR provides a breakdown of hate crime statistics to include incident, offense type, victim type, number of offenders, the apparent race of offenders (where reported), and location type. Annual reporting on this type of information has provided important indicators on progress toward protecting all in the United States against these most serious forms of violent discrimination.
Efforts have also long been undertaken to produce hate crime data in educational institutions, and those requirements have recently been upgraded to make the resulting data correspond more closely to data produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Higher Education Act of 1965 requires colleges and universities to report campus incidents, including violent, bias-motivated crimes, to the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). Reporting requirements have until recently been less rigorous than those of the FBI and have resulted in inconsistencies between FBI and OPE hate crime statistics. With the passage of a new bill on July 31, 2008, amending the Higher Education Act of 1965, the U.S. Congress has mandated that the hate crimes data reported by campus security personnel must conform to the same standards as that reported by state and local authorities to the FBI.
Nevertheless, there are significant gaps in the federal reporting of hate crime that merit attention. One important gap is that there is no official data that tracks reported incidents through from arrests and prosecutions in order to give a more complete picture of the disposition of hate crime incidents in the courts, and the implementation of federal and state hate crime laws. Other gaps in hate crime reporting are discussed below.
In the UCR on hate crime in 2006, the FBI identified 7,722 incidents—a 7.8 percent rise from 2005. These incidents were reported by 2,105 police agencies across the country, out of the about 17,500 agencies participating in the UCR program. The program is voluntary, and local law enforcement agencies are not required by federal law to report. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of the some 17,500 agencies either opt out of its hate crime reporting dimension altogether or, while nominally participating, report zero bias crime incidents.
In line with previous years, in the report for 2006 almost 5,000 agencies opted out of providing data on hate crimes. Of the 12,620 agencies participating, just 2,105, or 16.7 percent in fact reported hate crimes, accounting for the 7,722 incidents logged. The remaining 83.3 percent reported zero. Among those jurisdictions that reported zero hate crimes for 2006 were the states of Mississippi (which nominally participated in the UCR hate crime report) and Hawaii (which did not), as well as eight cities with a population over 250,000.Even accepting the reports of zero hate crimes as well-founded, the extent of coverage by participating agencies was also sometimes further limited. Inclusion of statistics from agencies (and their identification as participating agencies) required reporting of no more than one month of crime statistics in the course of the year. Alabama, for example, had 42 participating agencies—but just one, from the small town of Atmore (pop. 7,598), reported a hate crime incident, giving a total of 1. Moreover, Alabama’s reporting agencies covered areas with a population of just 693,540 of the state’s 2006 census estimate of 4,599,030 people. In Georgia, 61 agencies participated, but only four filed incident reports—on 13 hate crime incidents.
The breakdown of participation provided in the 2006 FBI hate crime report provides considerable detail on its scope—and its limitations. This understandably highlights the positive: that participating agencies in the hate crime data collection program “represented over 255 million inhabitants, or 85.2 percent of the Nation’s population, and their jurisdictions covered 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Outlying Areas (Guam).” A further useful figure that is not provided, however, is the proportion of the U.S. population covered by those 2,105 jurisdictions that submitted data on one or more hate crime: this figure would presumably represent a much lower percentage of the population.
Provisions to fund and improve training of law enforcement agencies to monitor and combat hate crimes are an important part of the draft Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007. The FBI provides authoritative guidelines to local enforcement, in particular concerning standards to be applied in quarterly reports under the Uniform Crime Reports system. FBI trainers have also played an important role in support for local law enforcement since the enactment of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
The FBI methodology makes a distinction between crimes with a racial bias and crimes with an ethnicity or national origin bias. The Uniform Crime Reports system initially adopted the term “ethnicity” expressly to refer to people who consider themselves Hispanic/Latino—a group that is not readily identified by “racial” criteria. The category has since been expanded, and “ethnicity/national origin bias” is now defined as “a preformed negative opinion or attitude toward a group of persons of the same race or national origin who share common or similar traits, languages, customs, and traditions, e.g., Arabs, Hispanics.”
Thus, anti-Hispanic bias still falls under the category of “ethnic/national origin” bias, even as the latter has come increasingly to be applied to other population groups as well. Critics of the system have pressed for a further breakdown of this catchall category to reflect the actual levels of hate crime violence against discrete minority groups that are not expressly identified in the statistical reporting, i.e. Arab-Americans, Sikhs, and others of Middle Eastern or South Asian origins.
The opacity of the reporting system regarding attacks on people of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin became particularly problematic in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, when backlash violence centered upon these population groups. The inclusion of a breakdown of violence against Muslims under religious-bias crimes (“anti-Islamic bias”) did little to ameliorate this reporting gap, insofar as crimes classed in this way include only those in which an element of religious bias predominated, as in attacks on mosques and Islamic community centers.
In a system complementary to the Uniform Crime Reports, crime monitoring is also undertaken nationwide through the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). This collects data annually “from a nationally representative sample of 77,200 households comprising nearly 134,000 persons on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States.” Importantly, NCVS collects information on crimes suffered by individuals and households, “whether or not those crimes were reported to law enforcement,” estimates the proportion of each crime type reported to law enforcement, and summarizes the reasons for reporting or not reporting.
Although the annual NCVS survey produces an extraordinary quantity and quality of data, findings regarding hate crimes are published only years after data is collected. Annual summary reports of survey findings provide no hate crime data. For example, the Bureau’s last major publication on hate crime data appeared in November 2005, and covered the period July 2000 through December 2003. The Bureau of Justice Statistics summary of NCVS findings for 2006, released in December 2007, provides no reference to hate crimes or to hate crime data.
Regardless of the delay, the NCVS findings on hate crimes are striking, and continue to be relevant for estimates of current levels of hate crimes, including those that are never actually reported to police. The November 2005 report concluded that
an annual average of 210,000 hate crime victimizations occurred from July 2000 through December 2003. During that period an average of 191,000 hate crime incidents involving one or more victims occurred annually. Victims also indicated that 92,000 of these hate crime victimizations were reported to police.
The 2005 report’s findings are based on both NCVS data and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. The estimate of 210,000 “hate crime victimizations” must be contrasted with the average of slightly more than 7,000 hate crime incidents reported during the period covered in the FBI reports, based on information from local police jurisdictions. Equally significant, however, is the contrast between NCVS data on victimizations reported to the police—92,000—and the annual FBI figures for incidents registered as involving criminal offenses.