A deeply flawed system for collecting hate crime data has left the U.S. with unreliable, incomplete official counts and little handle on the true scope of bias-motivated violence, ProPublica reports. Under a 1990 federal law, the FBI is required to track and tabulate crimes in which there was “manifest evidence of prejudice” against a host of protected groups, including homosexuals, regardless of differences in how state laws define who’s protected. The FBI relies on local law enforcement agencies to collect and submit this data, but can’t compel them to do so. Many police agencies across the country are not working very hard to count hate crimes. Thousands of them opt not to participate in the FBI’s hate crime program at all. Among the 15,000 that do, some 88 percent reported they had no hate crimes.
Local law enforcement agencies reported a total of 6,121 hate crimes in 2016 to the FBI. Estimates from the federal National Crime Victimization Survey put the number of potential hate crimes at almost 250,000 a year — one indication of the inadequacy of the FBI’s data. “The current statistics are a complete and utter joke,” said Roy Austin, former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ civil rights division. Many hate crime cases fall away before they start because about half the victims never report them to authorities. But to understand why so many cases that are reported to authorities still fall through the cracks, ProPublica requested incident reports or aggregate data from more than 350 law enforcement agencies in 48 states, including the 50 largest agencies nationwide, on the bias-motivated crimes they had investigated since 2010. More than 280 agencies responded, but in many cases only to say they hadn’t investigated any such incidents, or had no records, or that their records were bad.