People of all faiths and none deserve to feel safe in their identities and practice their beliefs freely. But a recent and alarming rise in hate crimes stands in that way of fulfilling that fundamental promise. Any crime committed by one human being against another is a tragedy. But hate crimes are uniquely damaging, impacting those targeted, their loved ones, and the larger group they represent. When a hate crime occurs, a whole community is impacted. One important way to address these ripple effects is through comprehensive data collection that accurately reflects the nature of hate-based incidents across the country.
On Monday, December 12th, 2022, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released the 2021 Hate Crimes Statistics Report. However, due to changes in the reporting system, fewer law enforcement agencies reported any data, resulting in an incomplete picture of recent hate-based violence. Reporting practices must be reformed so stakeholders can receive the resources they need to keep affected communities safe.
Newly Released Data Plagued by Underreporting
Despite being a key source of national information, the 2021 FBI Hate Crimes data is even less reliable than previous years. While the 2020 data included reporting from 15,138 of 18,625 law enforcement agencies, the 2021 statistics included just 11,883 of 18,812. This past reporting year, the FBI required all law enforcement agencies to report incidents through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for the first time in an effort to standardize reporting. The quick transition to a new system left many agencies behind, producing glaring gaps in the data for New York City, Los Angeles, major parts of Florida, and more.
But the issue of underreporting predates the 2021 data. There are differences in hate crimes classifications from agency to agency, making earlier reports similarly unable to grasp the full scope of the violence. While standardization is a step towards providing stakeholders with the information necessary to make important policy decisions, full participation must be prioritized to ensure the resulting policies address the true breadth of hate crimes.
Due to this incomplete picture, we are unable to make any comparisons between the new data and information from previous years. With fewer agencies reporting, including police forces in major metropolitan areas, law enforcement and legislators could look at this data and conclude that the issue of hate-based violence has decreased, even as targeted communities are increasingly on edge. While measures to address violence and harassment have had some impact in 2021, affected communities are living with the reality that their friends and family feel unsafe. They deserve data that presents the full picture of the threat they face. At a time when it is essential more than ever that we understand the details of hate-based violence, the FBI released data that limits our ability to draw meaningful conclusions.
Accurate Data is Essential To Address Hate-based Violence
Accurate data is essential in providing law enforcement and targeted communities with the information they need to respond to the growing threat of hate-based violence. But due to persistent under reporting by law enforcement agencies, FBI statistics only show a fraction of the larger picture. That is why Interfaith Alliance joined with our coalition partners to urge bipartisan support for the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer NO HATE Act, a bill that promoted accurate data reporting. On April 22, 2021, the NO HATE Act was passed as an amendment to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a much-needed step to support victims of hate crimes, their communities, and authorities.
Despite the underrepresentation of law enforcement agencies in the 2021 data, the FBI reported a staggering 7,303 incidents across the country as hate crimes. As an organization committed to combating religious discrimination, Interfaith Alliance is acutely aware of the need for decisive action to protect our community members and neighbors who face harassment and violence. An accurate accounting is a necessary first step.
Learn more about our work combating hate.