What is a hate crime?

Informally, a hate crime could be defined as a crime committed because the victim was a member of a specific demographic group. Formally, the federal definition of a hate crime was put into law by The Civil Rights Act of 1968. In this act, hate crimes were defined as crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin, with the prerequisite that the victim be attempting to engage in one of six types of federally protected activities (activities such as acting as a juror, voting, attending school, etc.).

Although hate crimes were outlawed many years earlier, it was not until 1990 that Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which required the attorney general (and by extension the FBI) to collect data about crimes that involve prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

Since the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act, several other legal statutes have altered the definition of a hate crime. As a result, the scope of hate crime data collected by the FBI has grown over time. Most recently, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived disability, all sexual orientations, gender, and gender identity in addition to removing the requirement that a victim be carrying out a federally protected activity.

New data

USAFacts recently added data on hate crimes to help shed light on the number of offenses committed annually against specific demographic groups. This data originates from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Hate Crime Statistics program and is comprised of Hate Crime offenses submitted to the FBI from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. As with other crime statistics, the following data only represents reported crimes that meet the definition of a federal hate crime. Several findings stand out from this dataset.

Hate Crimes in the US are beginning to rise after falling for many years

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Between 1996 to 2014, all hate crime offenses decreased from 10,706 offenses (3.97 offenses per 100k individuals) to 6418 offenses (2.01 offenses per 100k individuals). However, this number has risen since 2014, reaching 8,437 offenses (2.59 offenses per 100k individuals) in 2017.

The largest driver of an increase in offenses since 2014 is the Anti-Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry category, which accounts for 48% of the increase in hate crimes between 2014 and 2017. Additionally, Anti-Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry is the most prevalent category of offenses and has been since 1996.

Trends for the top 3 most prevalent biases

The top 3 categories of hate crimes are committed based on Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry, Religion, and Sexual Orientation. Going one level deeper, the most prevalent specific biases from each of these respective categories are Anti-Black, Anti-Jewish, and Anti-Gay (Male) biases.

Anti-Black hate crimes are still more than double the next highest bias in 2017, Anti-Jewish

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Anti-Black hate crimes have fallen as both a percent of total hate crimes and on a per capita basis. From 1996 to 2017, Anti-Black offenses fell from 12.98 per 100k black individuals to 5.42 offenses per 100k black individuals. Even still, Anti-Black bias was still the most common bias at 28% of all hate crimes in 2017 and was more than twice as common as the next most common bias, Anti-Jewish.

While hate crimes for most specific biases have increased in between 2015 and 2017, Anti-Jewish hate crimes have increased the most in nominal terms, from 695 offenses to 976. This is representative of a 40% increase between 2015 and 2017, and has outpaced the overall hate crime increase of 22% in this time period.

For hate crimes committed with an anti-gay bias, there is a noticeable difference in the trends for crimes committed by white known offenders and those committed by black known offenders. Anti-Gay hate crimes committed by white known offenders fell from 515 offenses (0.23 offenses per 100k white individuals) in 1996 to 263 offenses (0.10 offenses per 100k white individuals) in 2017. Conversely, Anti-Gay hate crimes committed by black known offenders increased from 102 offenses (0.31 offenses per 100k black individuals) in 1996 to 222 offenses (0.51 offenses per 100k black individuals) in 2017.

9/11 had a permanent impact on anti-Islamic hate crimes

The expanded breakdowns for hate crime offenses also provide some interesting context on American history; specifically, Anti-Islamic hate crimes had a significant spike in 2001 (presumably after 9/11, though the FBI only releases data on an annual basis). Between 1996 and 2000, Anti-Islamic hate crimes comprised an annual average of 0.3% of all hate crimes (31 offenses on an annualized basis). This number jumped to 4.7% of all hate crimes (546 offenses) in 2001. Although this number fell in subsequent years after 2001, it has never fallen below 120 (4x the pre-2001 annual average).

Anti-Islamic hate crimes spiked after 9/11 and have never returned to pre-9/11 levels

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A tale of two sources

Although this report utilizes data from the FBI’s UCR series, this is not the only statistical program that captures the scale, severity, and impact of hate crime within the United States. An alternative program that measures crime metrics is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Unlike the UCR Program which compiles crime data directly from law enforcement agencies, the NCVS program is a survey conducted annually that gathers information from households regarding crimes they have experienced in the past six months. The BJS published an explanation on where the two programs have overlap and differences. According to BJS:

The UCR Program’s primary objective is to provide a reliable set of criminal justice statistics for law enforcement administration, operation, and management. BJS established the NCVS to provide previously unavailable information about crime (including crime not reported to police), victims, and offenders.

Since the UCR and NCVS programs often report on the same metrics but have a number of methodological differences, these numbers do not always match. At the time of last publication there were not statistically significant differences between hate crime offenses as reported by UCR and NCVS. In addition, the data that each of these programs provides is highly valuable and, when taken together, are able to provide a more well-rounded picture of the state of crime in the United States.

For instance, a stark mismatch between what the two programs are showing may raise questions about the accuracy of the data. Questions such as “are a significant number crimes are going unreported to law enforcement agencies?” or “are law enforcement agencies are failing to report data to the FBI accurately” can be more appropriately addressed when utilizing both data sources.