THE lack of police training on how to identify hate crimes have resulted in the under reporting of such crimes nationwide.
Brian Levin, criminal justice professor at California State University, San Bernardino; and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, made the assessment during the New America Media (NAM) telebriefing on hate crime reporting on Wednesday (January 18).
Levin said that current national hate crime statistics are published through an annual report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). However, the professor added that “data is widely seen as flawed because it relies on voluntary participation from local law-enforcement groups nationwide.”
“Some states like Tennessee fine local law enforcement agencies don’t participate while other states like Mississippi opt out completely,” Levin explained.
According to the professor, while anecdotal evidence seem to suggest an increase in hate crimes in 2016, it may take some time for researchers to prove it.
“We know Tennessee reported hundreds of cases of hate crimes last year, but neighboring Mississippi, which has the highest population of African Americans, reported zero,” Levin noted.
“There’s obviously something missing.”
African Americans have historically been the most targeted racial group for hate crimes, accounting for 53 percent of the 5,850 hate incidents reported in 2015, according to FBI data.
While hate crimes overall are on the rise — increasing by more than six percent between 2014 and 2015 — the number of hate crimes reported against Latinos remains relatively unchanged.
Alarmingly however, the FBI’s 2015 report a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, said Levin.
“We’ve been in a range of 105 to 160 anti-Muslim hate crimes a year since 2000, but again this is dependent on self-reporting from local agencies,” he said.
Another NAM telebriefing resource speaker Phyllis Gersternfeld, a criminal justice professor at CSU Stanislaus and author of Hate Crimes: Causes, controls and Controversies, added that law enforcement personnel often lack the training necessary to fully understand hate crimes
“With the exception of California, states do not specifically require police to undergo training on how to identify potential hate crimes. That missing component can lead to hate incidents being misidentified or going unreported,” Gerstenfeld said.
On reporting hate crime
A.C Thompson, another resource speaker at the NAM telebriefing on Wednesday, is an award-winning investigative journalist with ProPublica.
According to Thompson, reporters can help fill the gap in hate crime reporting through coverage of local incidents in their communities.
The nonprofit news outlet is working to establish a mapping database to record incidents of hate crimes across the country.
“We’re trying to add another layer of information to what’s out there,” he said. “People around the country can report hate crime incidents and hate bias.”
Straddling the line between sympathy and skepticism towards victims would help reporters covering hate crimes for their communities, Thompson added.
“You want to get the best sense possible of whether or not the story makes sense,” he said.
Thompson said one of the best ways to approach a potential hate-crime story is to look for witnesses who may have seen or heard from the victim around the time of the alleged crime for help corroborating a story.
“Medical records and police reports are also important, as they can add further proof of injuries or damage resulting from a hate crime,” Thompson added.
Using social media, he continued, would help provide insights into the motives of victims and criminals.
“News stories drawing attention to such incidents will not only help keep communities from suffering in silence, but also assist researchers develop a clearer picture of hate-crime trends,” Thompson said.
ProPublica database contains stories that could be vetted and recorded for future investigation by journalists and experts.
“The idea is to map and track as much as possible in the absence of solid federal data,” he said.
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