Are hate crimes up or down?

There are endless news reports stating that hate crime is exploding since the campaign and Presidency of Donald Trump.

But the most reliable data tells a different story.

We have multiple federal measures of hate crimes, one from the FBI reporting a 17 percent one year increase, and one from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics stating that hate crimes decreased by close to 90,000 since 2009.

Who is correct?

Yes, I understand that there are endless media stories of skyrocketing hate crimes. But the Bureau of Justice Statistics data is undoubtedly more accurate because of its large data set.

The FBI Says Hate Crimes Are Up - But Are They?


The Difference Between FBI and National Crime Survey Data

The National Crime Victimization Survey was created because the great majority of what we call crime is not reported to law enforcement agencies. Based on the 2017 survey, about 45 percent of violent victimizations and 36 percent of property victimizations were reported to police, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The National Crime Survey is an effort to measure most crime in the United States, thus you create much larger numbers than crimes reported to law enforcement via the FBI.  The larger the numbers, the more reliable the outcome.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (i.e., The National Crime Survey) estimates an annual average of 250,000 incidents (statistical estimate) of hate crime victimizations in the U.S., about 40 times the number reported by the FBI.

Because of the difference as to what’s measured, you can get different results, see Crime Rates in the US .

Context Of The National Crime Survey Reports

A full report on hate crimes was issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Survey, in June of 2017, see Bureau Of Justice Statistics.

An updated report on hate crimes was issued by The Bureau of Justice Statistics in March of 2019, see Bureau of Justice Statistics.

This article will use data from both reports.

Some observations are necessary:

I profoundly dislike anyone who discriminates against any of my black or gay or Jewish or disabled friends and family members, or anyone else. They are the lowest form of humanity. They are scumbags. We are one America, and it’s up to all of us to respect all Americans.

But there are contextual issues and questions in the analysis of hate crimes that few seem willing to acknowledge.


Providing Context to Hate Crime Statistics

We’ve stated that there are two primary national measures of crime and hate crimes, those reported to the police via the FBI and those measured by the National Crime Survey. Both are agencies within the US Department of Justice.

As to hate crimes, critics state that the vast majority are not reported to law enforcement. But the vast majority of all criminality is not reported to law enforcement. Why would hate crimes be any different?

Per the FBI, hate crimes were up for the last three years (2015-2017). But violent crimes were up for 2015-2016. For example, homicides had the highest percentage increase since the 1960’s. Violent crime often rises and falls as a group. It’s possible that hate crimes could mimic other increases.

prosecuting hate crimes

(Adobe Stock)


Critics state that 88 percent of law enforcement agencies report they had no hate crimes and imply that these agencies were not taking hate crimes seriously. I suggest that a similar percentage applies to virtually all data reporting requests from the FBI. There are millions of missing files as to warrants, convictions, and data that need updating. Getting 19,000 state and local police agencies to fulfill any reporting efforts is almost an impossible task, Crime in America-Data.

Per the last full report on hate crimes from the National Crime Survey, nearly half (46%) of violent hate crime victimizations were committed by a stranger which means that most were committed by someone known to the victim. A principal reason why so many violent crimes are not reported is that it was considered a private matter; something that victims believe did not need to be reported to law enforcement.

I’m guessing that most people think that hate crimes happen between strangers. What dynamics are at play when a friend or acquaintance or co-worker engages in an act of violence and adds a statement that falls into the category of a hate crime? The offender used hate language in almost all hate crime victimizations (99 percent).

The FBI Says Hate Crimes Are Up - But Are They?

Previous Media Examples

Most of the articles on hate crime exclude data via the National Crime Survey, which is the most accurate indicator available.

FBI: Hate Crime Reports Surged After Trump’s Election

Per The Crime Report: The number of hate crimes reported in the United States reached a five-year high in 2016, taking a noticeable uptick toward the end of the year around the time of Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral college victory, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center.

However, 88 percent of participating law enforcement agencies reported no hate crimes in their jurisdictions, an ongoing challenge for data collection efforts.

The FBI figures show that 1,747 hate crimes were reported in the last quarter of 2016, a 25.9 percent increase over October through December in 2015. That figure supports a sharp increase in bias incidents reported by journalists and civil rights organizations in the wake of the election.

Hate Crime Data Called ‘Complete and Utter Joke’

Per The Crime Report: A deeply flawed system for collecting hate crime data has left the U.S. with unreliable, incomplete official counts and little handle on the true scope of bias-motivated violence, ProPublica reports.

Under a 1990 federal law, the FBI is required to track and tabulate crimes in which there was “manifest evidence of prejudice” against a host of protected groups, including homosexuals, regardless of differences in how state laws define who’s protected. The FBI relies on local law enforcement agencies to collect and submit this data, but can’t compel them to do so. Many police agencies across the country are not working very hard to count hate crimes. Thousands of them opt not to participate in the FBI’s hate crime program at all.

Among the 15,000 that do, some 88 percent reported they had no hate crimes.

Local law enforcement agencies reported a total of 6,121 hate crimes in 2016 to the FBI. Estimates from the federal National Crime Victimization Survey put the number of potential hate crimes at almost 250,000 a year — one indication of the inadequacy of the FBI’s data. “The current statistics are a complete and utter joke,” said Roy Austin, former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ civil rights division.

Many hate crime cases fall away before they start because about half the victims never report them to authorities.

Hate Crimes Up 20 Percent

Per The Crime Report: Hate crimes in nine U.S. metropolitan areas rose more than 20 percent last year, fueled by inflamed passions during the presidential campaign and more willingness for victims to step forward, a leading hate crimes researcher said on Monday.

Bias crimes appeared to increase in some cities following the Nov. 8 election of President Donald Trump, a trend that has extended into this year with a wave of bomb threats and desecrations at synagogues and Jewish cemeteries

The data was collected by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The new numbers, collected from police departments, reverse a trend toward fewer hate crimes in many of the cities in recent years, NBC News.


So we have measures of hate crimes reported above, one touting a one year increase of 17 percent, and one from the US Department of Justice-National Crime Survey stating that hate crimes decreased. See graphic below for a chart from the earlier full report.

The FBI Says Hate Crimes Are Up - But Are They?


Groups Victimized

More than half (53%) of violent hate crime victimizations were against whites.

Hispanics had the highest rate of violent hate crimes.

Most violent hate crimes involved race.

Religion was a small percentage of violent hate crimes.

During 2011-15, males and females had similar rates of hate crime victimization.

Hispanics (1.3 per 1,000) experienced a higher rate of violent hate victimization than non-Hispanic whites (0.7 per 1,000). By rate, blacks were second and whites third.

For both hate and non-hate violent crime victimizations, young persons ages 12 to 17 had a higher rate of victimization than persons age 50 or older (similar to violent crime in general).

In both hate and non-hate violent victimizations, persons in households in the lowest income bracket had the highest rate of victimization than all other income categories.

The FBI Says Hate Crimes Are Up - But Are They?


So Hate Crimes Haven’t Increased?

I understand that the debate is more about a political narrative than a factual discussion of the numbers. I understand that most media reports will ignore the numbers from The National Crime Survey and focus on data from the FBI and private organizations.

But as stated, there are nuances and complexities in the numbers.

Per Pew, the number of assaults against Muslims in the United States rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, easily surpassing the modern peak reached in 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new hate crimes statistics from the FBI.

In 2016, there were 127 reported victims of aggravated or simple assault, compared with 91 the year before and 93 in 2001, Pew.

Per the National Crime Survey, U.S. residents experienced an average of 250,000 hate crime victimizations (statistical estimate) each year from 2004 to 2015.

So who offers the best numbers that help us understand hate crimes, data that indicate that 127 were victims or data that analyses 250,000 incidents? Pew isn’t wrong, but smaller numbers have higher spikes.

If we are going to meaningfully address hate crimes (as we must), we need the best possible data while understanding complexities and nuances. As stated, the best data on hate crimes is from the National Crime Survey and it offers decreases that most choose to ignore.

Yes, per the National Crime Survey, when you have massive data sets analyzed over the course of many years, big percentage spikes are rare.


The FBI Says Hate Crimes Are Up - But Are They?