The FBI Hate Crimes database offers little help to authorities

The 2011 FBI Hate Crimes Statistics Report provides data about the 6,222 incidents reported to the database in 2011. (source: FBI Hate Crimes Statistics 2011)

The 2011 FBI Hate Crimes Statistics Report provides data about the 6,222 incidents reported to the database in 2011. (source: FBI Hate Crimes Statistics 2011)

As stories have emerged this year about continued hate crimes against Sikhs in Port Orange, Florida, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, ironically, in the current state of the FBI Hate Crimes Statistics reporting, these crimes (in addition to the mass murder of six Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin last August) would not be explicitly identified as hate crimes targeting Sikhs, and may not even appear in the FBI’s Hate Crimes statistics at all. Similarly, this also is the case for attacks against Hindus or attacks on those based on anti-Arab bias.

The issues around the FBI’s reporting of hate crimes is not limited to just these groups, however. A recent article by CNN provides case studies in the problems around tracking hate crimes against African Americans, and highlights the broad deficiencies of the FBI Hate Crimes Statistics database:

The result, critics say, is a federal data system that costs $1 million-plus but offers very little help to authorities who investigate, identify and track hate crimes.

Indeed, as mentioned on this blog in December 2011, while the FBI is mandated to collect such data, the Hate Crimes database is rife with issues and therefore does not offer much in the way of usable information as a result. It is difficult to make broad-based decisions or assessments based on the data because:

  • Without explicit evidence, many bias attacks are not officially identified as a “hate crime” and therefore would not be counted. When it is challenging to demonstrate a hate crime motive, the numbers reported by the database would underestimate the true number of crimes due to hate bias.
  • The FBI Hate Crimes reports are based on voluntary inputs from local law agencies. A police department is not required to submit their statistics to the FBI database. Some agencies may report consistently, others occasionally, and still others very rarely, regardless of their volume of these charged crimes. This inconsistent reporting would again result in an underestimation of the number of hate crimes. Further, because of the inconsistent reporting, presenting yearly trends of these crimes may not be statistically valid (even though the CNN article cited above itself reports annual trends). Based on these statistics, we cannot say that the number of hate crimes across the country have increased or decreased because the number of agencies is not consistent.
  • The FBI Hate Crimes statistics is based on categories that do not reflect certain groups such as Sikhs, Arabs or Hindus. When crimes are perpetrated on these groups or on the basis of these identities, the FBI’s data would not reflect these explicitly. When we know that, for example, Sikhs are often the target of hate crimes, one may never know this from reading a report based on FBI Hate Crimes statistics.

Any conclusion based on FBI Hate Crimes statistics cannot be generalized to what is actually occurring. Instead, analyses are essentially limited to the FBI database itself and as such the results are not particularly actionable or usable in the real world. Unfortunately, the lack of quality data reporting by the FBI on the issue of hate crimes seems to be consistent with an overall lack of attention by the country’s policymakers and law enforcement agencies in relation to white supremacy and domestic extremism.

The Sikh Coalition and other groups have been actively lobbying to have the FBI address some of the issues related to the FBI Hate Crimes statistics, but the law agency has dragged its feet to even make incremental changes to its procedures. Additional recommendations about addressing the issues related to the FBI Hate Crimes database were offered on this blog in December 2012. The deficiencies of the FBI Hate Crimes Statistics Report appears to have been a longstanding issue, and thus it would certainly behoove the FBI and the nation’s law enforcement agencies to address these concerns in the interest of effective law enforcement,.


  1. Pingback: According to US Department of Justice, most hate crimes not reported | American Turban

  2. Pingback: Hate-motivated attack on Piara Singh emphasizes need for tracking | American Turban

  3. Pingback: Tracking anti-Sikh hate crimes is a needed first step | American Turban


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