FBI Reports Small Increase In Hate Crimes, But On Very Limited Data

Hate crime incidents in the United States increased slightly in 2008 according to data released today by the FBI. There were 7783 incidents up 159 or 2.1% from the 7624 reported last year. Overall, non-hate crime declined less than 2% last year. However, it is not known if the reported increase in hate crime is the result of an actual increase in cases, or instead a result of a rise in the number of agencies actually participating in the program from 2007 and by reporting improvements in states with minimal previous reporting. The reporting rate for the nation was 3.46/100,000 population covered, but rates vary widely. New Jersey reported 8.5 hate crimes per100,000 hate crimes population while neighboring Pennsylvania reported a rate about ten times less. Participation is simply too spotty to be able draw firm conclusions about the direction of hate crime nationally last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

The number of participating agencies increased by 449 or 3.4% from last year, although most "participating agencies" reported no hate crime. The number of agencies submitting at least one incident grew by over 125 agencies from 2025 (15.3% of reporting agencies), in 2007, to 2145 (15.7% of reporting agencies) in 2008. The marked improvement in reporting efficiencies among some states with extremely low numbers last year apparently was responsible for some of the increase. Arkansas went from 27 agencies submitting 33 incidents in 2007 to 36 agencies submitting 91 incidents in 2008. Louisiana's numbers increased from 31 to 67, despite a decrease in participating agencies. Indiana went from 40 incidents in 2007 to 61 last year.

Still other large states like Pennsylvania, 6th ranked in population, with only 68 incidents, appear to have broken down in reporting accurately. Illinois, 5th ranked in population with 120 incidents, and Florida, 4th ranked in population with 153 incidents also have data that appear to be suspect. In 2002, a year with a lower national tally than 2008, Florida reported 257 incidents, Illinois 155, and Pennsylvania 132 incidents.

In addition to steep drop-offs in some of the largest states, data is further limited by a continuing apparent lack of participation by Hawaii and several southern states. States such as Mississippi, 4 incidents from 1 agency, and Georgia, 9 incidents from 2 agencies, limit the accuracy of overall national hate crime data. Georgia and Mississippi are states with among the highest representation of African-Americans, who account for 35% of all hate crime victims annually, but their state reporting barely registers.

Our California State University Study of 15 jurisdictions released last week found a slight decline in hate crime in those places, but also found that the national data to be extremely limited by differences in reporting quality across jurisdictions. That survey concluded: "We simply do not know if this small decline is illusory, or if it is not, whether it will be sustained." The same can be said of today's small increase in the official reports.

Today's FBI Data:

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The most incidents in 2008, 3992 were committed on the basis of race, with 2,876 incidents or 72.6% of total racial incidents being directed against African-Americans. 17.3% of racial crimes were committed out of anti-white bias. In 2007 there were 3,870 incidents on the basis of race and 2,658 committed against African-Americans.

There were 1,519 religion hate crimes committed in 2008, with 1,013 committed against Jews or 65.7% of total religious incidents followed by 105 anti-Islamic crimes, 7.7% of the total religious incidents. In 2007, 1400 crimes were committed on the basis of religion with 969 against Jews and 115 anti-Islamic crimes. Sexual orientation crimes were at 1297, with all being anti-gay, lesbian or bisexual except for 33 anti-heterosexual incidents. Tensions regarding sexual orientation grew in 2008 as various states, including California saw contentious debates over the legal status of gay marriages. Gender and gender identity were not included in the FBI's 2008 tally, but will be included in future reports owing to changes passed as part of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act signed into law in October.

Anti-Ethnic/National origin crimes decreased from 1,007 to 894, with the largest portion of those, anti-Hispanic incidents dropping 595 to 561. The anti-Hispanic incidents are still higher than the level seen in 5 of the previous 8 years, since 2000. Disability crimes decreased by 1 from 79 in 2007 to 78 in 2008.

32.4% of offenses were property damage/destruction/vandalism, while 29.5% were intimidation, 19.4% simple assault and 11.2% were aggravated assault. 60.4% of crimes were against persons, 39.4% against property. Crimes overall (non-hate crime) are overwhelmingly against property. Homicides decreased by 2 from 9 to 7.

A quick review of several large states by quarter did not indicate an increase in overall hate crimes during the fourth quarter of 2008, during the election period.

California, the largest state, with about 37 million residents reported 1381 incidents, followed by New Jersey, with 8.7 million residents reporting 744, and New York, with 19.5 million residents reporting 570 incidents. Hawaii did not participate, while Mississippi reported 4 incidents, Wyoming 6, Alaska 8, and Georgia and New Mexico had 9.

Agency Participation Varies Widely, Affects Data

The Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA: 28 USC 534) enacted in April 1990 mandates that the Attorney General collect data voluntarily submitted by states on crimes that "manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity." In 1994, Congress added the category of disability. On October 28, 2009 President Obama signed the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act, 18 USC 249, which further expands data collection for future reports under the HCSA to include "gender and gender identity" as well as data on crimes involving juveniles.

As some states like Louisiana, Arkansas and Indiana saw significant increases, probably due to improvements in reporting--what's known as reporting effect, other states, particularly large ones have declines that are so variant from their population size that their previous numbers, that their declines are suspect. Illinois, the fifth largest state with 12.9 million residents, dropped from 167 incidents last year to 120 in 2008. The number of agencies reporting at least one incident varied only by one, but the number of "participating" agencies rose from 60 to 308 (a large proportion of the increase in "participating agencies." The majority of Illinois agencies "participating" simply are submitting forms with zero incidents on them.

Similarly, Pennsylvania, the sixth largest state with 12.4 million residents, reported only 68 hate crimes from 31 agencies, despite 1,241 of the states agencies saying they "participate," mostly again by reporting a form with a "zero" written on it. While various states have done well in reporting over time, many have not, making it exceedingly difficult to draw firm conclusions on trends from the data submitted. The overall annual figures are the highest since 2001, but the totals have been in the 7,000-8000 range from 2002 forward.