Experts Explain Why The FBI's Hate Crime Statistics Are Pretty Useless

Business Insider

Take the FBI's report on hate crimes with a grain of salt.

The data, which suggested that Mississippi had America's fewest hate crimes in 2011, is highly dependent on reports from local police, some of whom are better at reporting hate crimes than others.

"It's very hard to get much that's useful out of these numbers," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

Some police departments — like the NYPD — report more hate crime because they have entire units devoted to that issue, according to Indiana University law professor Jeannine Bell.

These special units have officers trained to identify hate crimes and encourage the public to spot such crimes, Bell said. For example, you might not realize graffiti with a racial slur is a "hate crime" without help from the police, she said.

The opposite holds true in some cities without dedicated hate crime units.

Since police might not be on the lookout for such crimes, they're more likely to tell the FBI they had "zero" hate crimes for the entire year, Bell said.

These reports of so few hate crimes obviously ring a little false. In Mississippi only one hate crime was reported for all of 2011, the SPLC's Mark Potok pointed out.

"The idea that an entire state had one hate crime is flatly ludicrous," he said.

While it's clear that precincts with limited resources may under-report hate crimes, the FBI's data do offer some insight into overall hate crime trends in the United States.

The overall number of reported hate crimes dropped by 30 percent between 1996 and 2011, with those targeting blacks dropping by 43 percent during those years.

SEE ALSO: The 15 Most 'Underpoliced' Cities In America >



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