A Kentucky researcher doubts reports of a growing hate crime problem in America in recent years, arguing that the increase in hate crime reports in 2017 can be mostly explained away as hoaxed crimes and erroneously interpreted data.
Hate crimes increased by some 17.2 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the latest FBI data. But Wilfred Reilly, assistant professor at Kentucky State University, says the increase was mainly caused by the fact that about 1,000 more law enforcement agencies reported their hate crime data to the FBI in 2017.
“To be responsible for the entire surge, each agency [of the 1,000] would have to report exactly one hate crime,” he pointed out via email. “I believe with reason—given the average agency has reported between .44 and .63 hate crimes annually in recent years, and that high-crime agencies are more likely to withhold data from the FBI in the first place—that almost all of the surge is due to this technical change in reporting rates.”
Publicly available data isn’t detailed enough to determine if Reilly is right. He’s asked the FBI to provide him with the more complete data set.
There are ways, however, to put the available data into perspective.
Hate Crime Rate
One way to adjust the data would be to look at how much of the country’s population it covers. Law enforcement agencies hand over the data voluntarily. Of the around 18,000 law enforcement agencies countrywide, only about 16,000 participated in hate crime reporting in 2017, which was already the year with the highest participation ever.
By calculating the rate of hate crimes per 100,000 Americans covered, one gets an increase of less than 11 percent between 2016 and 2017. That’s still a major hike, but less than the more than 12 percent increase between 2014 and 2015.
Another major caveat is that hate crime reports are very rare. The rate in 2017 stood at less than 2.4 incidents per 100,000 residents covered by the data. The murder rate that year was 5.3 per 100,000, making homicide more than twice as likely to occur than a hate crime incident reported. Meanwhile, the majority of hate crimes, such as intimidation and vandalism, are non-violent.
Hate Crime Hoaxes
Another factor that pushes up the number is fakes, Reilly argues. He has collected a list of over 600 incidents reported in media that he believes qualify as hate crime hoaxes. Some 300 of them were reported in the last five years with more than a hundred concentrated in 2017.