Working to Reform the Hate Crimes Reporting System

With thousands of cases apparently going unrecorded each year, the national statistics on hate crime have proved to be only the crudest of indicators of the level of bias in America. If we are ever to have a better picture of this aspect of U.S. life, the current data collection system will have to change.

Fundamentally, the issue is one of leadership. Both political and law enforcement leaders need to make a far greater push to encourage both awareness and reporting of hate crimes.

But government officials also should consider a range of incentives to local agencies, such as technical assistance grants. And a study of best reporting practices from around the nation could help local law enforcement agencies devise effective programs.

The authors of a Department of Justice-funded report, "Improving the Quality and Accuracy of Bias Crime Statistics Nationally," make 28 separate recommendations to improve the system. The recommendations fall into four major categories.

Police-community relationships. To encourage hate crime victims to come forward, local law enforcement agencies should seek to improve their relationships with minority communities and to raise public awareness about bias crime and the resources available to combat it.

Infrastructure and support. Local police agencies, with the support of the FBI, should develop formal policies for dealing with hate crimes — policies that include procedures for investigating, recording, verifying, and reporting bias incidents.

Training. Hate crime training, spearheaded by the FBI, should be a priority.

Improving data and reporting. In addition to improving local hate crime collection efforts, modifications should be made to the FBI annual hate crime report. The federal government also should encourage state and local agencies to convert to incident-based reporting — a method that allows for the collection of detailed information on crime victims, offenders, their relationships, and the circumstances of the crime — rather than continuing to rely on the skimpier Uniform Crime Report system.

For the full text of the Justice Department report and its recommendations, visit its Web site.