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New legislation an opportunity to improve hate crime data, combat violence

For more than 30 years, the FBI has published an annual report providing the most important and comprehensive national snapshot of hate violence in the U.S.

Yet it is also based on flawed and inconsistent data. And without accurate data, it’s impossible to effectively address our nation’s hate crime problem.

To highlight this deeply disturbing, ongoing series of hate-fueled crimes, the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated October as Hate Crimes Awareness Month, when it conducts an annual campaign to alert the public, advocates, policymakers and politicians to the problem of hate crimes and press for action to prevent them.

Fortunately, new bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress last month could improve hate crime reporting nationwide, providing better data to understand – and combat – hate crime.

The Improving Reporting to Prevent Hate Act (HR 7648) would condition federal funding to state and local law enforcement on credible hate crime reporting to the FBI or meaningful hate crime prevention, outreach and awareness initiatives by such agencies. The bill is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., and U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

The FBI has been collecting hate crime data from the nation’s 18,000 federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies under the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) since 1991. Unfortunately, hate crime data collection – like all FBI crime reporting – is voluntary.

The FBI’s 2022 HCSA report, its most recent, dramatically demonstrated the lack of comprehensive data. For example, police reported 11,643 hate crime incidents – the highest number of hate crimes ever – from the smallest number of law enforcement agencies (14,660) in the past decade. 2022 also marked the fifth straight year of declining police participation.

The 2022 FBI HCSA report also documented:

  • The highest number of reported race-based crimes ever (6,570), including the highest number of crimes directed against Black people (3,424) since 2000.
  • The highest number of “anti-Hispanic or Latino” crimes (738).
  • The second-highest number of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander crimes (525).
  • The highest number of crimes targeting people and institutions because of their sexual orientation (1,947), gender identity (469) and religion (2,014). This includes the highest number of antisemitic crimes since 1993 (1,124) and a growing number of anti-Muslim crimes (158).

Moreover, in a year of record-breaking hate crime reports, thousands of police agencies across the country did not report any hate crime data to the FBI – and almost 80% of the rest reported to the FBI that they had zero hate crimes. That’s a stunning statistic, especially when you consider it includes about 60 police departments that serve cities with more than 100,000 people.

Of course, it’s not just about numbers. Behind every hate crime statistic is a person or institution targeted for no other reason than personal identity. Better hate crime data would assist in proper allocation of police resources and personnel – preventing crimes and reassuring hate crime survivors. And it will build trust and relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. That’s because improving data collection requires both people reporting crimes and well-trained police knowing how to identify, report and respond to hate violence.

We must take meaningful action to understand the full scope of this national problem, tailor prevention strategies and spark improvements in police training and community outreach.