The number of hate crimes seems to be increasing in the United States.
Hate crimes include attacks on Muslim women who wear hijabs and threats against Jewish community centers.
But the true number of such crimes is not known. Experts say that is because such crimes are under-reported. So policymakers are discussing ways to change that.
A system to report hate crimes
In March, two Democratic lawmakers -- Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Don Beyer -- wrote a bill that would help make better use of a reporting system known as the National Incident Based Reporting System, or NIBRS.
Two months later, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a meeting to discuss religious hate crimes. Several Democratic members of the committee promised to support a plan to require hate crimes to be reported.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at a meeting about hate crimes. He said he had created a group to help find ways to improve the reporting of such crimes.
Jonathan Greenblatt leads the Anti-Defamation League. He told the Senate committee that “there are very real consequences to this lack of comprehensive reporting. It is well documented that victims are far more likely to report a hate crime if they know a special reporting system is in place -- if they believe the police are ready and able to respond effectively.”
The FBI’s definition of hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole, or in part, by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity."
Experts say many hate crimes are not reported.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) has gathered crime statistics since 1930. The bureau began including information about hate crimes in its yearly report after the passage of the 1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act.
However, the law did not require that police departments report such crimes. So thousands of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies either chose not to take part in the program or do not report any hate crimes.
The FBI’s most recent report was released in November. It showed 5,850 bias-motivated offenses in 2015. Yet a national study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that about 250,000 hate crimes took place in 2015.
Brian Levin is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. He says the gap between the two numbers shows how large the under-reporting of hate crimes is.
“This is not only because of an absence of trainings, model policies, executive leadership, outreach and coordination, but also because the reporting system itself is not mandatory,” Levin said.
Levin presented information about hate crimes reporting at the meeting last week at which Sessions spoke. Levin told the meeting that activists strongly support making hate crimes reporting mandatory.
Should reporting hate crimes be mandatory?
The FBI says the southern state of Tennessee is the only state that requires all law enforcement agencies to report hate crimes to the state’s bureau of investigations.
“We have a 100 percent participation rate,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine said. “All agencies in Tennessee are currently in compliance with” the state’s crime reporting system.
DeVine says the agency gives training to the state’s more than 550 law enforcement agencies.
“What we’re trying to do in talking about hate crime statistics in Tennessee is to create a culture and a climate where people realize that even one of these is a problem, and it’s not something we stand for as Tennesseans,” DeVine said.
The FBI has admitted for some time that its voluntary UCR reporting system is not perfect.
“There are jurisdictions that fail to report hate crime statistics,” then-FBI Director James Comey said in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in 2014. “Others claim there were no hate crimes in their community -- a fact that would be welcome, if true.”
In 2015, almost 15,000 law enforcement agencies gave information about crimes in their area. But Greenblatt said just 12 percent of them “actively reported” on hate crimes. He said 66 cities with a population of more than 100,000 did not report hate crimes.
“It is absolutely clear that the data we have now significantly understates the true number of hate crimes committed in our nation,” Greenblatt said.
While Democrats have voiced support for a mandatory crime reporting system, many Republicans have not.
“If law enforcement is unwilling to call a crime a hate crime, I don’t see how a change in the law to require reporting of hate crime will change the current situation of spotty data and missed opportunities,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley said.
I’m Alice Bryant.
And I'm Bryan Lynn.
Masood Farivar reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section, or visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
motivate – v. to give (someone) a reason for doing something; to be a reason for (something)
offender – n. a person who commits a crime
bias – n. a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly
statistics – n. a number that represents a piece of information (such as information about how often something is done, how common something is, etc.)
gap – n. a difference between two people, groups or things (often + between)
outreach – n. the activity or process of bringing information or services to people
in compliance with – expression in the way that is required by (a rule, law, etc.)
jurisdiction – n. an area within which a particular system of laws is used
understate – v. to say that (something) is smaller, less important, etc., than it really is
spotty – adj. not always good; good in some parts or at some times but not others (chiefly US)