Improving Hate Crime Reporting Is Necessary for Justice

By Jared Shirts

In 2022, the FBI documented 11,634 hate crimes in the United States, the highest number of hate crimes on record. However, this figure is incomplete. Only a fraction of hate crimes were tracked in the FBI’s database because, of the nation’s 18,800 law enforcement agencies, only 14,660 reported data to the FBI — the fewest in over a decade. These absences omit large swaths of the population. For instance, in 2021, New York City, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles all sent no data to the FBI.

The flaws in existing hate crime reporting extend beyond these incomplete reports. An additional problem is the absence of credible data. Of cities that reported data to the FBI, 79 percent said there were zero hate crimes in their city. This dramatic underreporting of statistics is a product of a broken hate crime data collection system that is largely devoid of accountability and oversight.

Collectively, these issues contribute to a national hate crime database that is incomplete. Only a fraction of hate crimes that occur are included in the FBI’s national database. And research has shown that 66 percent of hate crime victimizations go unreported to law enforcement.

Why does national hate crime data capture such a small fraction of hate crimes? The most substantial factor is simple: Reporting these data is voluntary. The FBI’s national hate crime data is derived from the 1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA), legislation requiring the U.S. attorney general to track national hate crimes. While this law led to the creation of the FBI’s national database, it contains no requirements for police department participation. This results in a database that captures a mere fraction of hate crimes, as the data collection and reporting relies on good-faith participation by the nation’s police departments.

Voluntary reporting doesn’t merely result in bad data. It inhibits combating hate crimes. As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, “studies show that more comprehensive reporting can deter hate crimes because better data will assist in proper allocation of police resources and personnel — preventing crimes and reassuring victims.” In addition to optimizing prevention resources, mandatory reporting can improve community relations by placing a stronger emphasis on combating the violence faced by marginalized communities. These represent essential steps necessary to prevent hate crimes before they happen. A robust national hate crime database is a prerequisite to combating the scourge of hate crimes nationwide. Mandatory hate crime reporting enables policymakers to gather a complete understanding of how many hate crimes occur, where they occur, and how resources should be allocated to prevent them.

The Improving Reporting to Prevent Hate Act (IRPHA) attempts to close this loophole in existing reporting requirements. Introduced on March 15, 2024, by Reps. Don Bacon (R. Neb.) and Don Beyer (D. Va.), this bipartisan legislation is a necessary corrective to the broken data collection system currently in place. IRPHA amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (OCCSSA), which allocates federal funding to state and local governments to support crime prevention efforts. The amendment dictates that to be eligible for OCCSSA funding, municipalities of more than 100,000 people must report credible hate crime data to the FBI. Additionally, the legislation incentivizes jurisdictions to launch hate crime education and awareness initiatives, qualifying noncompliant jurisdictions for federal funding if they launch local educational programs about combating hate crimes.

This legislation, which is supported by The Leadership Conference and dozens of other organizations, is essential for addressing numerous hate crime reporting problems. Through conditioning substantial federal funding on municipalities reporting credible hate crime data, IRPHA addresses the two central problems facing hate crime reporting. First, it strongly incentivizes municipalities to participate in data reporting, addressing the gaps in data the FBI currently faces. Notably, in 2022, two dozen cities with more than 100,000 people reported zero data to the FBI. IRPHA will expand compliance among these cities, allowing for a more complete picture of the state of hate crimes in the United States.

Second, IRPHA addresses the issue of data that are not credible. Even when jurisdictions report data to the FBI, those data are deeply flawed. When a substantial number of cities with more than 100,000 people uniformly report zero hate crimes, it demonstrates a lack of credible data being sent to the federal government. IRPHA addresses this by strengthening oversight of the data sent to the FBI.

Hate crime reporting demands reform. The current system is broken, with inaccurate and incomplete data creating a deeply flawed national report. IRPHA will mandate data compliance, incentivizing municipalities to submit accurate data to the FBI’s database. These reforms will contribute to a comprehensive database that will enable policymakers and community advocates to better track and combat hate crimes.

Jared Shirts was a spring 2024 undergraduate intern at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.