ADL Urges FBI to Expand Hate Crimes Training and Improve Reporting

November 30, 2004

Dear CJIS Advisory Policy Board Member: 

On behalf of the coalition of national civil rights, law enforcement, education, and religious organizations below that support hate crime education, awareness, and prevention initiatives in Congress, the federal agencies, and the states, we write to emphasize the importance of the FBI's efforts to collect and publish hate crime data from state and local law enforcement officials. We urge you to join us in strongly supporting the Bureau in efforts to secure comprehensive implementation of this important data collection mandate - and we urge your support for series of refinements to existing practices. 

Background: The Impact of Hate Violence

All Americans have a stake in effective response to violent bigotry. These crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact. Bias crimes are designed to intimidate the victim and members of the victim's community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable, and unprotected by the law. Failure to address this unique type of crime could cause an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension. The damage done by hate crimes, therefore, cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents. By making members of minority communities fearful, angry, and suspicious of other groups -- and of the power structure that is supposed to protect them -- these incidents can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities. 

The urgent national need for both tough law enforcement response and education and programming to confront violent bigotry has only increased since the September 11, 2001 terrorist incidents. In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the nation witnessed a disturbing increase in attacks against American citizens and others who appear to be of Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent. The perpetrators of these crimes irrationally lashed out at innocent people because of their personal characteristics - their race, religion, national origin or ethnicity.

In the aftermath of those crimes, the Justice Department launched more than 500 federal civil rights investigations, resulting in over 100 prosecutions initiated by federal, state, and local prosecutors for crimes including murder, arson, and assault. 

The Hate Crimes Statistics Act: A Firm Foundation on Which to Build

The FBI has been collecting and publishing data on hate crimes in America under the mandate of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) since 1991. Enacted in 1990, the HCSA requires the Justice Department to acquire data on crimes which "manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or ethnicity" from law enforcement agencies across the country and to publish an annual summary of the findings.

Many of the signatories to this letter have welcomed the opportunity to work jointly with Bureau professionals in support of comprehensive hate crime data collection efforts. Representatives of a number of civil rights and law enforcement groups worked cooperatively with the FBI in the drafting of the FBI's thoughtfulTraining Guide for Hate Crime Data Collection and its Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines which have been widely distributed to police agencies across the country.

The FBI has taken important steps to make the information reported to the Bureau accessible to researchers, law enforcement officials, civic leaders, and community relations professionals. In 1996, for the first time, the FBI incorporated an HCSA summary report in its Crime in the United States (CIUS) report. Because CIUS is a primary resource for criminologists, policymakers, and analysts, inclusion encourages researchers and criminologists to study hate violence, helps place it on the agenda for criminal justice and crime prevention conferences, and sends the signal to law enforcement officials that the HCSA is a permanent, integral part of the FBI's comprehensive crime data collection programs.

As documented by the FBI in its 2003 HCSA report, (released earlier this month) violence directed at individuals, houses of worship, and community institutions because of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and disability is disturbingly prevalent. While the overall number of crimes reported to the FBI in 2003 decreased by 3%, reported hate crimes increased slightly from 7,462 in 2002 to 7,489 in 2003. Highlights from the Bureau's 2003 report include: 

  • Approximately 51 percent of the reported hate crimes were race-based, with 18 percent on the basis of religion, 17 percent on the basis of sexual orientation, and 14 percent on the basis of ethnicity; 
  • Overall, approximately 66 percent of the reported race-based crimes were anti-Black, 22 percent of the crimes were anti-White, and 6 percent of the crimes were anti-Asian/Pacific Islander. The number of reported "anti-Islamic" crimes decreased from 155 in 2002 to 149 in 2003. In addition, the number of hate crimes directed at individuals on the basis of their national origin/ethnicity decreased from 1,102 in 2002 to 1,026 in 2003. 
  • The 927 crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions comprised 12.4 percent of the overall total -- and 69 percent of the reported hate crimes based on religion. 149 anti-Islamic crimes were reported in 2003, 11% of the religion-based crimes. 
  • 11,909 police and sheriffs’ departments reported HCSA data to the FBI in 2003, yet almost 85% of these agencies affirmatively reported to the FBI that that they had zero hate crimes. Only 1,967 agencies reported one or more hate crimes to the Bureau. Further, more than 5,000 agencies did not participate in this hate crime data collection effort at all.

The publication of the annual jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction report, Hate Crime Statistics, has been especially useful in helping to gauge the seriousness with which communities and police departments are approaching the Federal hate crime data collection effort. For example, in 2003, four states (Alabama, Louisiana, Montana, and Mississippi) reported 10 or fewer hate crime incidents - and Hawaii did not participate in the HCSA program at all. In addition, of the 100 most populous cities in the U.S., eleven did not participate in the reporting of hate crime data at all: Detroit, Indianapolis, Honolulu, San Juan, St. Louis, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Montgomery, Shreveport, Augusta, and Mobile. In addition, data collected from several other cities among the fifty largest in the country is questionable on its face. For example, 

Jacksonville, Austin, Memphis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Atlanta, Omaha, Miami, Denver, and Oakland all reported fewer than 10 hate crimes in 2003, while cities of comparable size - Boston, Portland, and Las Vegas - each reported over 80 hate crimes to the FBI in 2003.

Despite this incomplete reporting record, the HCSA has proved to be a powerful mechanism to confront violent bigotry against individuals on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. Importantly, HCSA has also increased public awareness of the problem and sparked critical improvements in the local response of the criminal justice system to hate violence. For example, in recent years, dozens of law enforcement agencies across the country have promulgated new policies and procedures for addressing hate violence. Building on model policies drafted by, among others, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), departments have complemented their participation in the HCSA data collection initiative with the development of protocols for their officers on how to identify, report, and respond to hate violence.

Police officials across the country have come to appreciate the law enforcement and community benefits of tracking hate crime and responding to it in a priority fashion. Law enforcement officials now better understand that they can advance police-community relations by demonstrating a commitment to be both tough on hate crime perpetrators and sensitive to the special needs of hate crime victims. By compiling statistics and charting the geographic distribution of these crimes, police officials may be in a position to discern patterns and anticipate an increase in racial tensions in a given jurisdiction.

The obstacles to comprehensive reporting, however, are significant. Studies by NOBLE and others have revealed that some of the most likely targets of hate violence are the least likely to report these crimes to the police. In addition to cultural and language barriers, some immigrant victims, for example, fear reprisals or deportation if incidents are reported. Many new Americans come from countries in which residents would never call the police -- especially if they were in trouble. Gay and lesbian victims, facing hostility, discrimination, and, possibly, family pressures because of their sexual orientation, may also be reluctant to come forward to report these crimes. These issues present a critical challenge for improving law enforcement response to hate violence. When police departments implement HCSA in partnership with community-based groups, the effort should enhance police-community relations.

In order to build on the important successes of the HCSA, we recommend that the FBI take the following steps:

1) The Hate Crime Incident Report should be revised to provide space to encourage additional narrative about the bias motivation present. The facts surrounding these crimes are all-important in determining whether the crime was, in fact, motivated by bias. Responding officers should be encouraged to provide relevant background information that documents why he or she believes the crime to be bias motivated - and space should be allocated to it on the Hate Crime Incident Report form.

Professor Jack McDevitt, director of the Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research at Northeastern University, has also stressed the need for an expanded narrative in reporting hate crimes. In his September 2002 report, Improving the Quality and Accuracy of Bias Crime Statistics Nationally, funded by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, McDevitt suggested that more detailed reporting can reduce the occurrence of "information disconnect" between the investigating officer and UCR reporting officials.

2) The Hate Crime Incident Report should provide additional specificity in the Bias Motivation section, under Ethnicity/National Origin and under Sexual Orientation. The current form provides a box only for "Anti-Hispanic" and "Anti-Other Ethnicity." In 2000, the FBI documented 911 such crimes, but in 2001 there were 2,098 crimes in this category. It is very likely that a considerable portion of the dramatic increase in these types of bias crimes were in connection with bias-motivated attacks against individuals who "looked like" the terrorists. We strongly recommend that the FBI include, at least one other box in this section for "anti-Arab" crimes. At a minimum, the "Anti-Other Ethnicity/National Origin" line should include a line that includes "anti-Arab" as an example of such a crime.

In addition, although the current Hate Crime Incident Report form breaks down crimes directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation into five categories, the form does not provide an opportunity to capture and isolate reports of bias crimes against transgender individuals. Because there is increasing evidence that these bias crimes occur with disturbing frequency, we recommend that another category, "anti-transgender," be added to this section.

3) The revised Hate Crime Incident Report should include a box in the Bias Motivation section for gender-based hate crimes. As states continue to enact hate crime statutes, the clear trend has been to include gender-based crimes in these laws. In 1990, only seven of the statutes in the thirty-one states that then had hate crime statutes included gender. Today, including the District of Columbia, twenty-seven of the forty-six states with penalty-enhancement hate crimes statutes include gender. Eight states now include gender in their hate crime data collection mandate. Gender-based crimes are also subject to Federal sentencing enhancements under 28 U.S.C. 994. In June, 2004, by a vote of 65-33, the Senate approved pending federal hate crime legislation which included a provision to mandate the inclusion of gender-based crimes as part of the HCSA collection effort. However, Congress adjourned before this bill could be enacted.

4) The revised Incident Report should provide a place for the age of both the victim and the suspected offender. Where it is readily obtainable, the suspected offender's age - and the age of the victim -- would be highly relevant facts to include in the Hate Crime Incident Report. This information would be especially useful in efforts to learn more about juvenile hate crime offenders and victims. The FBI's annual HCSA report does not currently provide specific information about either juvenile hate crime offenders or victims. There is, in fact, a paucity of information about juvenile involvement in hate violence.

A September 2001 Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Hate Crimes Reported in NIBRS, 1997-99, closely examined about 3,000 of the almost 24,000 hate crimes reported to the FBI during that period. That report provided disturbing information about the too-frequent involvement of juveniles in hate crime incidents. The report documented that a disproportionately high percentage of both the victims of hate violence and the perpetrators were young people under 18 years of age: 

  • 33% of all known hate crime offenders were under 18 - 31% of all violent crime offenders and 46% of the property offenders; 
  • Another 29% of all hate crime offenders were 18-24; 
  • 30% of all victims of bias-motivated aggravated assaults and 34% of the victims of simple assault were under 18; 
  • 34% of all persons arrested for hate crimes were under 18 - 28% of the violent hate crimes and 56% of the bias-motivated property crimes; 
  • Another 27% of those arrested for hate crimes were 18-24. 

5) The revised Hate Crime Incident Report form should be accompanied by the distribution of a revised and updated Training Guide for Hate Crime Data Collection. The last revision of this comprehensive and inclusive document was in 1996; its companion, Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines, was last revised in 1999. Revising the guidelines would provide an opportunity to provide the needed rationale for requesting greater specificity in reporting hate crimes directed against individuals on the basis of their national origin, sexual orientation, or gender - as well as the need to report both the age of the suspected offender and the victim of the crime.

In addition to refinements in the Hate Crime Incident Form and revisions in the Training Guide for Hate Crime Data Collection, we urge the Advisory Policy Board to join us in support of several other systemic improvements that we believe will promote expanded participation in the FBI HCSA initiative: 

  • The Justice Department and the FBI should provide additional incentives for HCSA implementation, including national recognition, matching grants for training, a network to promote replication of successful programs, and awards for exemplary departments. 
  • FBI Field Offices should be encouraged by headquarters to work more closely with police departments in their jurisdictions to promote participation in the HCSA reporting effort. Collecting data under the HCSA -- and training officers to identify, report, and respond to acts of violence based on prejudice -- demonstrates a resolve to treat these inflammatory crimes seriously. These positive steps can be amplified by involving representatives of minority communities in the training sessions.

Especially at this time of increased terrorist threat, we welcome the continuing efforts of the Bureau to spark improvements in the response to an especially consequential form of domestic terrorism - hate violence.

Thank you for your consideration of these proposals. We look forward to our continued partnership with the FBI and other law enforcement authorities in support of education and outreach efforts to improve the response to hate violence in America. 


American Association of University Women
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Jewish Committee
Americans for Democratic Action
Anti-Defamation League
Arab American Institute 
B'nai B'rith International
Human Rights Campaign
The Interfaith Alliance
Japanese American Citizens League
Jewish Council on Public Affairs
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC)
National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Urban League
Organization of Chinese Americans
People For the American Way
Police Foundation
United States Students Association