Government Survey: Hate Crimes Trending Downward

Hate Crimes

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a major new report showing that hate crimes have decreased nationally since 2003 — a trend that mirrors a general drop in all kinds of violent crime over the same period.

The June 16 study by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) was based on detailed surveys of a statistically representative sample of the population. It found an annual average of 195,000 hate crime victimizations between 2003 and 2009, with the numbers bouncing around from year to year but declining overall, from 239,400 in 2003 to 148,400 in 2009. An earlier BJS study, using the same survey methodology but examining hate crimes during the 2000-2003 period, found an average of 210,000 hate crime victimizations per year.

The decline, Northeastern University criminology professor and hate crimes expert Jack McDevitt told the Intelligence Report, appears to be part of a national decline in violent crime overall. The apparent reasons for that decline, which likely apply to hate crimes as well, include the shrinking of the national population of 16- to 24-year-olds, who are by far the most crime-prone population cohort; the rise of effective community policing strategies around the country; and the diminished use of particularly crime-associated drugs like crack cocaine and methamphetamines, he said.

The FBI each year publishes the number of hate crimes reported by law enforcement departments to the states, which then report to the FBI. But those numbers have always been small — between about 6,000 and 10,000 a year, depending on the year. When the BJS published its first study based on victimization surveys, examining the 2000-2003 period, it showed for the first time that the real level of hate crime was almost certainly vastly higher than the FBI national statistics suggested.

McDevitt said that although the numbers based on the victimization surveys are considered more accurate than those reported by police departments — in part, because they include crimes never reported to authorities — they are still only an estimate based on a fairly small sample. But he said he has been independently studying the statistics recently and has seen a similar drop in hate crimes over recent years, although a drop less precipitous than that of violent crime overall.

McDevitt added that the fact that the two BJS studies had similar findings — the earlier study, for instance, found that 56% of hate crimes were not reported to police, while the new one found that number was 55% — added to his confidence level. “So we know there are a lot of unreported hate crimes,” he said. “I just wouldn’t hang my hat on either set of numbers definitively, the BJS or the FBI numbers. But I do think that between those two, the real level is closer to the BJS numbers.”

The new report included several other interesting findings:
• Violence was involved in far higher percentage of hate crimes than non-hate crimes — 87% compared to 23%. The earlier BJS study found a similar trend.
• Hate crime victims knew their victimizers 37% of the time, compared to 50% for non-hate crime victims.
• Between 2003 and 2009, on average, 32% of hate crime victimizations occurred at or near victims’ homes, while 24% occurred in a street, parking lot or on public transportation. Another 18% took place at school.
• The majority of violent hate crimes were interracial, while the majority of non-hate crime violent crimes were intraracial. In a related finding, nearly 90% of hate crimes victimizations during the 2003-2009 period were perceived by their victims to be racially or ethnically motivated.