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New FBI hate crimes report undercounts bigotry-based attacks on racial minorities and LGBTQ people

Just 65% of police departments nationwide provided the FBI with hate crimes statistics for 2021, compared to the 93% that did so the previous year, the bureau said.
Members and supporters of the Asian-American community attend a "rally against hate" at Columbus Park in New York City on March 21, 2021. - Three massage parlors around Atlanta were targeted March 16, 2021, and a 21-year-old suspect was arrested. Robert Aaron Long faces eight counts of murder and one charge of aggravated assault.
Members and supporters of the Asian American community at a rally against hate in New York City on March 21, 2021. Ed Jones / AFP via Getty Images file

The FBI on Monday released a hate crimes report for 2021 that it admits is incomplete and which, critics say, vastly undercounts bigotry-based attacks on Blacks, Jews, Asians and members of the LGBTQ community.

Even so, the 7,262 hate crime incidents tallied in the report is the third-highest number reported in a decade and just a thousand shy of the 8,263 incidents recorded in 2020, according to bureau statistics.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the reason for the apparent undercount is that the FBI has implemented a new procedure for police departments to report crimes of all kinds to it called the national incident-based reporting system, or NIBRS — and many of those departments have not yet started working with the program.

"The Justice Department continues to work with the nation’s law enforcement agencies to increase the reporting of hate crime statistics to the FBI to ensure we have the data to help accurately identify and prevent hate crimes," she said.

Still, several states and many of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies "did not make the transition to NIBRS in time to submit data prior to the reporting deadline, and are not included in the 2021 reported totals," the Justice Department said in a statement.

According to the FBI, just 65% of police departments nationwide provided it with hate crimes statistics for 2021, compared to the 93% that did so the previous year.

Even worse, critics say, the FBI's 2021 hate crimes report is missing key data from big states such as California and Florida where many of these incidents tend to be reported, and from some of the nation’s largest police jurisdictions, including New York City and Los Angeles. 

“The significant decline in participating police agencies in 2021 due to a transition to a new platform killed the accuracy of national totals," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Levin, whose own research saw a staggering 224% increase in anti-Asian crimes last year, as well as big increases in bias crimes against Jews, Latinos, Black people and members of the LGBTQ community, said the result is that the new FBI report is an out-of-focus snapshot on what's going on in America.

"Today’s overall FBI numbers simply do not reflect the increases we’re seeing across more reliable and consistent data from a smaller but more consistent set of police data," he said.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt echoed that criticism.

“Hate crimes tear at the fabric of our society and traumatize entire communities,” he said. “The failure by major states and cities across the country to report hate crime data essentially — and inexcusably — erases the lived experience of marginalized communities across the country.”

The FBI acknowledged that the newest hate crimes numbers, culled from 11,834 law enforcement agencies nationwide, were incomplete.

"This is the first year the annual hate crimes statistics are reported entirely through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)," the bureau said in a statement. "As a result of the shift to NIBRS-only data collection, law enforcement agency participation in submitting all crime statistics, including hate crimes, fell significantly from 2020 to 2021. "

In October, the FBI released its first crimes report using the NIBRS system and it too was far from complete because just 52% of law enforcement agencies submitted their data for 2021.

Brian Higgins, who was the chief of the Bergen County police in New Jersey from 2011 through 2014 and now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said that his department had a system in place to compile crime statistics for what was then known as the FBI’s uniform crime report.

“We would start retrieving the data on day one and the New Jersey State Police would also send in folks to help assemble this material,” he said. “But it was very time-consuming and very labor-intensive, so I can see how introducing a new system like the national incident-based reporting system would make it difficult for some departments to meet the FBI requirements, which, by the way, are voluntary.”

So, rather than submit an incomplete and thus inaccurate report to the FBI, some departments struggling to adapt to the new reporting system simply opted out this year.

“Bad info gives you bad statistics,” Higgins said.

Still, even with only a little over two-thirds of the nation's police departments submitting data, the new FBI hate crimes report makes for grim reading.

Those figures include 5,781 hate crime offenses “classified as crimes against persons,” 2,606  reports of vandalism and property crimes, and 286 additional offenses that don’t fall neatly into either category but are still classified by the FBI as “crimes against society.”

As has been the case for many years, most of the "known offenders" cited by the report are overwhelmingly white (56.1%) and most of the victims (64.8%) were targeted because of their race or ethnicity.

"Blacks have been top targets for hate crime in U.S. since data collection started in 1991 and were in 35% of total in 2020," Levin said.

Nearly 16% of the victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation, some 13.3% were victimized by religious bigots, and nearly 4% were attacked because of their gender, the FBI reported.

Greenblatt said the Jewish community has experienced a major uptick in religious-based attacks in 2021 but the FBI report does not reflect that because it does not include data from the big cities that, historically, have had relatively high numbers of reported anti-Jewish hate crimes.  

“Especially at a time when our communities are feeling particularly vulnerable to hate crimes and extremist-fueled attacks, it is egregious that major cities and states across the country have failed to report comprehensive data for 2021,” he said. “We urge Congress to make it mandatory for state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to participate in the FBI’s hate crime data collection efforts."

Levin's research, which includes data from 18 states and the District of Columbia, recorded 8,896 hate crimes in 2021 and "a wave of anti-Asian violence."

“We showed a record for anti-Asian hate, but when you leave out New York City, L.A., yeah, and Chicago too, and you’re functionally leaving out Florida and California, this is devastating for the data," he told MSNBC's Katy Tur.