The election of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president has been followed by a wave of reports of racially and ethnically motivated acts of intimidation and hatred both nationwide and in Connecticut, but spotty law enforcement data could limit our ability to fully understand the subject.
The FBI released annual hate crime statistics for 2015 last week, and a number of news organizations used the report to conclude hate crimes had risen 6.8 percent from 2014 to 2015.
What that number really tells us is limited.
The FBI did compile reports of 5,479 hate-crime incidents nationwide in 2014 and 5,850 in 2015, which is indeed a 6.8 percent increase. However, many law enforcement agencies nationwide don’t provide hate crime data to the FBI, and the ones that do may submit data one year but not the next.
In 2015, 14,997 agencies participated in the data reporting program, down from 15,494 in 2014. That 6.8 percent figure doesn’t take those inconsistencies into account. (The decline in agencies combined with an increase in hate crime reports suggests that hate crimes might have risen significantly more than 6 percent, but we don’t know without examining which departments dropped off the list and which were added.)
In the fine print on the data, the FBI warns that year-to-year comparisons might not hold up. “In addition, some data in this publication may not be comparable to those in prior editions […] because of differing levels of participation from year to year.”
In the press release announcing the data, the FBI acknowledged the weaknesses in the data, including a 2014 quote from FBI Director James Comey: “We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crime to fully understand what is happening in our communities and how to stop it.”
What we do know: 2015 in Connecticut
Participating Connecticut police departments documented 93 hate-crime incidents in 2015, with “race, ethnicity and ancestry” the top motivations for the incidents in the FBI data.
Race, ethnicity and ancestry played a role in 62, or about two-thirds, of the incidents. Religion was a motivating factor in another 19 incidents, or 20 percent.
Nine hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation and four were motivated by disability. There were zero reported Connecticut hate crimes motivated by gender or gender identity.
Those proportions remain fairly consistent in data Trend CT inspected from 2010 through 2015, with racial, ethnic and religious hate crimes the most numerous.
The 2015 hate-crime motivations add up to 94 motivating factors, meaning one of the 93 incidents involved a combination of motivations.
While there were 93 incidents, there were 107 offenses associated with those incidents. They included 20 assaults and 42 cases of intimidation considered crimes “against persons.” Other crimes “against property” included 33 vandalism and destruction crimes. The rest were mostly robberies and thefts.
A decline here
When we performed the simple comparison that yielded a 6.8 percent increase in hate crime reports nationwide, we found a 24 percent decrease in Connecticut, but we wanted to iron out some of the inconsistencies in the data.
After doing so, we still found a striking decline in reports of hate-crime incidents.
For each year, from 2010 to 2015, we added up the population of all the jurisdictions of participating police departments, and then divided the number of incidents by the population to find a “per capita” rate of hate-crime incidents.
We found that from 2010 to 2014 there were between 43 and 48 hate crime incidents per 1 million residents, but in 2015, the number dropped down to 32.
Data collection problems
There are more than 3,000 agencies nationwide that don’t participate in the FBI program, including the entire state of Hawaii.
In 2015, there were 95 participating departments from Connecticut, down from 102 in 2010. There are 143 police agencies in Connecticut, according to the most recent Census Of State And Local Law Enforcement Agencies.
Even among departments that participate, how rigorously they track hate crimes appears to vary.
There were zero hate crimes reported in Mississippi in 2015, for example. Data collection is particularly lacking in southern states, according to the non-profit news organization ProPublica, which announced it would work to better track hate-crime data.
Hate crimes are up – but the government can’t keep track of them. So we’re going to start. https://t.co/nJiN4vFgBF
— ProPublica (@ProPublica) November 15, 2016