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FBI Hate Crime Data Called 'Terrible, Incomplete, and Unusable'

In the spring of 2020, someone defaced two synagogues in Huntsville, Al., with antisemitic graffiti. Police and federal agents swooped in to investigate. The Huntsville police reported zero hate crimes for 2020. The FBI reports fewer than 10,000 in a typical year. Another Justice Department agency tabulated more than 300,000 hate crimes in 2019 alone. “The reality is, we really don’t know anything about hate crimes,” said Heidi Beirich of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. The FBI reported roughly 7,300 hate crimes for 2021. Agency leaders acknowledged their data omitted vast swaths of the nation, including New York City and most of California, reports The Hill. More than one-third of the nation’s law enforcement agencies failed to deliver hate-crime data for 2021 under a new federal reporting system. The FBI data are "terrible, incomplete and unusable,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a sociologist at American University. None of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies is required to submit hate-crime data to the FBI. Victim advocates would like a congressional mandate for law enforcers to report them. Even if the FBI heard from every police chief and sheriff in the nation, the report would enumerate only a tiny percentage of all hate crimes. Most agencies that do participate “send in a form that says ‘zero,’” said Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice at California State University.


Consider Huntsville. In April 2020, antisemitic graffiti appeared at two synagogues during Passover: a textbook hate crime. Security-camera footage suggested the same person had defaced both properties. All of Huntsville seemed to know of the attacks. Yet, in its year-end tally of 2020 crime data, the Huntsville Police reported no hate crimes. The Anti-Defamation League keeps a spreadsheet of large cities that reported no hate crimes in either 2020 or 2021. They include Miami, St. Petersburg and Tallahassee, Fl., Des Moines, Ia., Little Rock, Ar., Montgomery, Al., and Jackson, Ms. “And I think it’s not credible that there would not be hate crimes in jurisdictions with 100,000 population,” said the league's Steven Freeman. Levin and his colleagues comb big-city crime stats to populate periodic reports on urban hate crimes. They found a nearly 40 percent increase in those crimes between 2020 and 2021 in the 10 most populous U.S. cities. Hate crimes surged again in 2022, at least in the largest cities. Los Angeles reported 643 hate crimes. New York reported 619 and Chicago 167. Those numbers suggest hate crimes are a bigger problem in Los Angeles than in New York, which has a larger population but fewer crimes. More likely, the discrepancy means the two agencies count the crimes in different ways. “The cities or the states that have the best reporting show the highest numbers,” Freeman said. Phoenix, with 1.6 million residents, reported 140 hate crimes in 2021. Houston, a larger city, reported 47. Fort Worth, population 928,000, reported 11. Factor in the thousands of law-enforcement agencies that reported no hate crimes at all, and the undercount appears to be massive. The Bureau of Justice Statistics compiles reports from its National Crime Victimization Survey, which shows 305,390 hate crimes nationwide in 2019. The FBI, by contrast, has never logged 10,000 hate crimes in a single year. That incongruity suggests FBI data may be capturing only three percent of all hate crimes.

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