On the Underreporting of Hate Crimes

One common saying in the policy world—a saying I know as someone who can be a policy wonk, himself—is that “bad data leads to bad policies.”

Unfortunately, one area where we have bad data is with one of the major issues of our day: hate crimes.

In my blog post last Monday, where I talked about the recent shootings at three Atlanta-area spas, I made reference to the fact that hate crimes in general are underreported. While we have some data (some of which I cited in last week’s post), the data is not where it needs to be. This is the case because data on these crimes depends on the voluntary reporting of local police departments—something that can result in the severe undercounting of hate crimes. As a result, not all police agencies even report hate this data, and even among those departments who report such data, few departments report there being any hate crimes in 2018.[1]

Because of such incomplete data with regards to hate crimes in general, we’re left with a lot of unanswered questions about hate crimes in America. Here are some of the questions I, for one, have (and in bold, I explain how the answer to a question I raise could inform policy):

  • Are there any cities, regions, or states where the levels of hate crime overall are particularly high? Learning about the communities that struggle the most with these crimes may result in considerations of how to devote additional resources, or a different set of resources, to addressing the issues they experience with hate crimes.
  • Which ethnicities, religions, or other classifications are being targeted the most and/or are experiencing a rise in being victims of hate crimes, either in certain areas or nationally? Based on limited data from some major cities,[2] it appears anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise, but it would be nice to have more knowledge of whether this is an issue nationwide or whether it’s a problem concentrated in certain areas. Such data could potentially also help inform strategies on how to deal with the types of hate crimes that a specific area experiences the most.
  • Are there any cities, regions, or states where hate crime statistics seem to be defying certain trends nationally and/or in their own state? If there are any police departments where such crimes are bucking certain trends in their state or nationally for the better, then it would be worth seeing what those police departments are doing well in preventing and/or addressing hate crimes; this could then inform how other police departments address hate crimes. If any police departments are bucking certain trends in their state or nationally for the worse, then there needs to be an examination of what’s going wrong and how (if at all) the situation could be improved.
  • Are there any regional trends in hate crimes (for example, hate crimes against a particular ethnicity being on the rise in one region, or hate crimes targeting a particular religion being down in a particular region)? There are times when numbers may vary from region to region, or state to state, depending on a variety of factors. Additionally, knowing about regional trends can potentially allow for regional solutions in dealing with certain types of hate crimes, as opposed to a national one-size-fits-all approach.

Questions such as these, as well as others I may not be thinking of at this moment, need answers, yet we don’t have them because of such limited data on hate crimes. If municipalities, and the country as a whole, are serious about anti-Asian hate, and hate in general, we need to have better data on hate crimes, which in turn can potentially inform policy on how to address these crimes. I say that because as much as bad data can result in bad policies, good data can help inform good policies.

The good news is that, as of the time of my writing this post, there is soon to be legislation introduced in United States Congress to try and address this issue.[3] That legislation, called the NO HATE Act, would, among other things, try to provide incentives for the reporting of hate crimes. This is a bill that, according to its sponsor in the United States House of Representatives, is soon to be reintroduced. While I don’t know whether the incentives for the reporting of hate crimes by municipalities in this bill are enough to result in more detailed reporting, it is promising that organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Jewish Committee—organizations that are extremely aware of the threats that issues with these crimes cause to the people they advocate for—have supported this bill in the past.[4] Of course, if a hate crimes policy expert happens to stumble upon this blog post, I would be interested in hearing an expert’s take on the legislation.

Regardless of whether the aforementioned legislation is a policy solution, what is undeniable is that there is a problem with the underreporting of hate crimes. A good way to honor the victims of COVID-related hate crimes, and hate crimes in general, would be to try and find a solution on this issue.

[1] https://www.propublica.org/article/police-dont-do-a-good-job-tracking-hate-crimes-a-new-report-calls-on-congress-to-take-action

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-asian-hate-crimes-increased-nearly-150-2020-mostly-n-n1260264

[3] The NO HATE Act has not yet been reintroduced in this session of Congress, so I’m linking to the text of the legislation from the previous session of Congress here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2043/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22no+hate+act%5C%22%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=2. I should also note that the author of the bill in the United States House of Representatives says that the bill is soon to be reintroduced: https://beyer.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=5080

[4] The NAACP had an “Action Alert” in September 2019 urging members of Congress to endorse and support the NO HATE Act: https://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/NO-HATE.pdf. The American Jewish Committee gave people the ability to email their members of Congress and urge them to consider supporting the legislation: https://actnow.ajc.org/LZloT1U

17 Replies to “On the Underreporting of Hate Crimes”

      1. No way for me to correct you, I’d imagined that the motives were similar:

        shame and/or fear of the police either not believing victim reports or further victimizing them?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hmmm…actually, thinking about things some more, shame and fear of the police not acting appropriately are a factor, with both rapes and at least certain kinds of hate crimes. So, in a way, what my post talks about is a factor in the underreporting of hate crimes that goes beyond even issues of shame and/or fear (which can exist with hate crimes and rapes).

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post! I’m wondering if some of the underreporting could be due to 1) lack of clear and consistent legal definitions across different municipalities and states for what is considered a hate crime vs. a “normal crime” for lack of better word (I honestly have no idea if there are different definitions, although it would not surprise me if that were the case) and 2) if the determination that an incident is a hate crime is based on the motivation of the perpetrator, and if that isn’t immediately obvious when the crime is first reported, how does the reporting get updated when new details about the incident are available? I have no background in this area and would love to better understand how the reporting works.


    1. I’m curious as to whether the use of the term “Asian” is basically referring to people with East Asian heritage (which includes Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etcetera), or is it referring to all Asian nations and races? Doesn’t the Asian continent also include Middle Eastern countries, those of the Indian subcontinent, and even Russia in the north? To me, it’s needlessly imprecise thus confusing journalism.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Regarding anti-Asian sentiment specifically, if I recollect correctly, the 2007-08 financial crisis resulted in the biggest, and perhaps the most culpably corrupt, mainstream U.S. bankers NOT being criminally indicted but rather given their multi-million-dollar performance bonuses via taxpayer-funded bailout. Yet, the feds, in a classical cowardly move, only charged some high-level staff with a relatively small-potatoes Chinese-American community bank as a figurative sacrificial lamb that couldn’t really fight back and who looked different from most other Americans. ….

    Although some research reveals infants demonstrate a preference for caregivers of their own race, any future racial biases and bigotries generally are environmentally acquired. (Adult racist sentiments are often cemented by a misguided yet strong sense of entitlement, perhaps also acquired from one’s environment.) One means of proactively preventing this social/societal problem may be by allowing young children to become accustomed to other races in a harmoniously positive manner.

    At a very young and therefore impressionable age, I was emphatically told by my mother (who’s of Eastern European heritage) about the exceptionally kind and caring nature of our Black family doctor. She never had anything disdainful to say about people of color; in fact she loves to watch/listen to the Middle Eastern and Indian subcontinental dancers and musicians on the multicultural channels. This had a positive effect upon me. Had she (for whatever reason) told me the opposite about the doctor, however, I could have aged while blindly linking his color with an unjustly cynical view of him and, eventually, all Black people.

    When angry, my (late) father occasionally expressed displeasure with Anglo immigrants, largely due to his own experiences with bigotry as a new Canadian citizen in the 1950s and ’60s. He, who also emigrated from Eastern Europe, didn’t resent non-white immigrants, for he realized they had things at least as bad. Plus he noticed — as I also now do — in them an admirable absence of a sense of entitlement.

    I believe that as a result of my rearing environment, and basically by chance, I reached adulthood essentially unstricken by uncontrollable feelings of interracial contempt seeking expression. Not as lucky, some people — who may now be in an armed authority capacity — were raised with a distrust or blind dislike of other racial groups.

    The first step towards changing our irrationally biased thinking can be our awareness of it and its origin. But until then, I believe, such biased sentiments should either be kept to oneself or counselled, especially when considering the mentality is easily inflamed by anger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your story and being so vulnerable on here.

      I definitely agree that awareness is such a huge first step. Unfortunately, awareness can be hard to come by, even in the best of circumstances.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In a purely superficial sense, race/color is the greatest difference among humans. Although morally it shouldn’t be, it is an easy focal point for people seeking reasons (excuses) to differ and, as with this visual aspect, so pronouncedly. Then again, hypothetically reduce our species to just a few city blocks of residents who are superficially similar in every way, and there will likely be some form of bitter inter-neighborhood quarreling, eventually.

        Liked by 1 person

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