03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New Study: U.S. Hate Crimes Fall Slightly In '08; But Data Is Limited

Hate crimes reported to police declined about 2% in 2008 according to an analysis of official composite government data from 14 states in every region and the District of Columbia conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The survey total for 2008 of reported hate crime was 4,911-- a decline of 100 from the 5,011 hate crimes reported to police by the same jurisdictions in 2007. Of the 15 jurisdictions surveyed, including the six most populous states, only four-New Jersey, Washington State, Texas and Tennessee, reported increases. New York City and Los Angeles County, the largest city and county also experienced declines in 2008.
This overall decrease in reported hate crime comes despite an economic recession, increasing demographic diversification, an apparent increasing number of hate groups and a number of hate crimes connected to the candidacy and election of the nation's first African-American president.
However, because the decrease is a small one, it may not be replicated by national figures across all states, except Hawaii- a non-participant, when that data is released by the FBI next week.

Survey Data Characteristics

As has been the case in each prior year since national records have been kept beginning in the early 1990s, racial hate crimes were the most common hate crime victim category and African-Americans the most frequently targeted subcategory. This was true of all survey states (and the District of Columbia), except New York-the state with the largest Jewish population- where religious and anti-Semitic hate crimes again predominated. According to the Census Bureau African-Americans accounted for 12.8% of the nation' s population, while private estimates for the Jewish population put the percentage just under 2% nationally. Latino's who appear to be the most represented ethnic/national origin group among victims are estimated by the Census Bureau to be 15.4% of the American population. Gay and lesbian people ranged between about 12-22% of total incidents among the states surveyed.

About 2/3 of reported hate crimes were directed against people and 1/3 against property. Non hate crimes are overwhelmingly directed against property as opposed to persons.
In states that had offender data, perpetrators tended to be young male adults or teenagers, although a noticeable minority were in their 30s and 40s. Nationally, youth aged 5-17 constitute 17.4% of the population. Non-Hispanic whites, who are about 66% of the American population were the most common offenders, followed by African-Americans, who appear to be disproportionately represented as offenders as well, though much less so than they are as victims. In Los Angeles County, California, however, Blacks and Latinos, were responsible for over 60% of racial/ethnic hate crime attacks against each other, and the majority of those racial attacks were gang related. The most common offenses were property damage/destruction, intimidation (threatening person directed behavior), and simple assault. The most common locations for hate crime were residences, streets, and schools/universities.

Five of the six most populous states reported declines, with only Texas, the second most populous state reporting an increase of 3 incidents or 1.2%. California, the most populous state saw a decline of 29 incidents or 2% from 1426 to 1397, despite an increase of anti-Jewish crimes of 37.5% and anti-Gay crimes of 16.7%. New York State, the third most populous state saw a decline of 7.8%.

There was very significant variation in the rate of hate crime by state, calling into question the reliability of data from larger states with low rates and/or apparent non-participation by police agencies. New Jersey, again had the highest hate crime rate of about 9.9/100,000 population. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation with a highly diverse population occupying a relatively small area. It also is a state that was among the first to institute training programs, enact a hate crime law, collect hate crime data and apply uniform standards. In contrast neighboring and larger Pennsylvania, which reported a double digit percentage decline in incidents, had a hate crime rate that was over ten times lower than that of its smaller neighbor. After Hawaii (which only reported one hate crime) Pennsylvania had the lowest rate with 0.72/100,000.

Data Limitations: Extreme Caution Urged

While there appears to be a slight downward trend, extreme caution must be used in analyzing the data, drawing conclusions and making comparisons.

First, hate crime is vastly underreported by victims, so it is likely that 80% or more do not end up getting recorded in official reported data at all. A 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics Victimization study found that there were about 191,000 hate crime victimizations annually, but the FBI reported 9535 victims across 7624 incidents in 2007. Moreover, reporting may be affected by a number of victims who are less likely to report these incidents such as immigrants, young people, closeted gays, or those speaking speaking a foreign language.

Second, agency participation varies widely by states with 13, 241 agencies out of 16,000 nationwide participating in the 2007 FBI hate crime data collection effort. Furthermore, only 15.3% of "participating agencies" actually reported any hate crimes in 2007. It is not known how many agencies that reported zero hate crimes actually experienced hate crimes, but failed to report. Similarly, if there are improvements in reporting efficiencies in states like Mississippi, which reported no hate crime in 2007, that could further impact the data. An increase of only 3 hate crimes in the 36 remaining states could turn the overall national data from negative to positive. Moreover, hate crimes are often times influenced by local circumstances and triggers in individual communities that may not show up or be obvious in an analysis of national data. Lastly, it should be noted that there are variations in some states regarding what they report to the FBI and what they publish in their own autonomous reports on hate crime.

Other Data

While official national hate crime figures are not expected to be released until next week, these declines appear consistent with trends reflected in overall crime across the United States. In September the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that the violent crime rate overall fell 1.9% and the property crime rate overall declined 1.6%. Crime rates take into account population.

These data also appear consistent with the overall trends reported by private monitoring organizations that track prejudice based incidents, some of which are not crimes. The Anti-Defamation League which tracks anti-Semitic incidents reported a 7% decline in June for 2008 in those "incidents". The numbers decreased from 1460 in 2007 to 1352 in 2008, although vandalisms increased from 612 to 702. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs which tracks homophobic, bisexual and transgender hate crime saw a slight drop from 1688 incidents in 2007 to 1677 in 2008, although the number of victims increased by 2% to 2,424 and murders increased 28%. Hate violence against the homeless, which is not collected in official national data, dropped in 2007, while homicides fell by 1 case according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Federal Data Collection Efforts: Scope & Limitations

Official national annual FBI Hate Crime data is scheduled to be released online Monday, November 23 here.

The FBI's 2007 Hate Crime Report showed 7,624 incidents or approximately one reported hate crime almost every hour. The data was limited by an apparent lack of meaningful participation by several states, as well as a decline in the quality of data from others. Hawaii did not participate at all, and Mississippi reported no hate crime. Three of the five states with the highest proportion of African-Americans, who account for 35% of all reported hate crimes nationally in 2007, barely reported hate crime at all that year:

1. Mississippi, 38% African-American, 0 hate crimes

2. Louisiana, 32% African-American, 31 hate crimes

3. Georgia, 31% African-American, 13 hate crimes

Contrast these totals with that of South Carolina, a state in the same region with similar demographics and a total population almost the same as Louisiana and half that of Georgia's. South Carolina has over one million African-American residents comprising 29% of the state's total population. The state reported 127 hate crimes in 2007. In 2007 Boston, a city with a dedicated police hate crime unit and a population of 500,000, counted more hate crime cases than Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi combined with a total population of about 24.4 million.

Also disturbing is the diminishing participation by other states with large and diverse populations. Illinois reported 348 hate crimes in 1996 through 113 participating law enforcement agencies. By 2007 the state reported only 167 incidents to the FBI from only 60 agencies. Other states "participate" but merely collect forms showing "zero" hate crimes from various counties and municipalities. Because key Southern states with high proportions of African-Americans, as well as three of the most populous states (Pennsylvania, Illinois and Florida) either have limited reporting or large unexplained declines over long reporting periods, national figures may be unrepresentative of the scope and distribution of all actual hate crime.
The Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA: 28 USC 534) enacted in April 1990 mandates that the Attorney General collect data voluntarily submitted by states on crimes that "manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity." In 1994, Congress added the category of disability. On October 28, 2009 President Obama signed the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act, 18 USC 249, which further expands data collection for future reports under the HCSA to include "gender and gender identity" as well as data on crimes involving juveniles.

Conclusion: More Questions Than Answers

We simply do not know if this small decline is illusory, or if it is not, whether it will be sustained. The decline may be associated with an increasing rejection of prejudice among most youth, who commit many of these crimes, and lower crime rates generally. Unlike past economic downturns, this housing based recession appears less likely to be effectively scapegoated via a focus on affirmative action or foreign wage competition. In addition, since reporting is skewed towards jurisdictions, particularly metropolitan and suburban ones, that also vigorously prosecute hate crime it may reflect a more localized deterrent effect in certain geographic pockets that disproportionately impact reported data overall. This deterrent effect, if it exists, would likely occur among the most common perpetrators- young thrill offenders.
Young people, often with no violent history, acting out of a desire for excitement and peer validation are the most common perpetrators of hate crime, but the least ideologically committed to their low level prejudices--making them most susceptible to deterrence. Hard core hatemongers, who are increasingly more vocal, are among the least common type of offender, but much more represented in the small number of particularly violent attacks.
However, a decline may also represent a shift by some offenders to victims less likely to report like the homeless, the disabled, rural gays, or immigrants. Any decline could also very well relate to a deterioration in the quality of reporting as both human relations commissions, police, and advocacy groups scale back efforts and coordination due to severe budget constraints.

Lastly, as the wave of attacks following 9/11 or the first Rodney King verdict showed, a catalytic event has the ability to spark a significant cycle of retaliatory violence that can immediately, though temporarily, change the trajectory of previous trends. Even without a trigger incident economic shifts, demographic changes, increasing incivility in public discourse, hate group activity, heated public policy debates, changes in youth crime patterns, and reverberations from international and domestic events can impact hate crime trends in the years to come. 

Summary: U.S.
Reported Hate Crime 2008: Survey of 15 Jurisdictions (Full Report in PDF Below)

Total: 4,911
(2008)   5,011 (2007) Change  -1.99%

States Population Characteristics (2008): Census Bureau    

304, 059,724

Age 5-17:
17.4%           Under 18
Total: 24.3%         Gender   Male: 49.3%

Race: White (Non-Hispanic) 65.6% 
African-American 12.8%  Asian 4.5% 

(Of any race)
Disabled 49,746, 248

: 1. CA, 36.8 Million; 2. TX, 24.3 Million; 3. NY, 19.5 Million, 4. FL,
18.3 Million,

5. Illinois, 12.9 Million

is Alphabetical/Rank Refers to Population/Hate Crime Year Over Year on Right

  California Population Rank 1, 36.8 Million
1397 (2008) 1426 (2007) -2%

  District of Columbia       Rank 51,
592, 000
  37 (2008)  37 (2007)  0%,a,1239,q,567500.asp

4, 18.3 Million
  182 (2008) 193 (2007) -5.7%$file/2008HateCrimesReport.pdf

4.    Hawaii    
42, 1.3 Million
(2008) 1 (2007)  0%

    Rank 39, 1.5 Million   30
(2008) 38 (2007) -21.1%

            Rank 5, 12.9
180 (2008) 191 (2007) -5.7%

           Rank 40, 1.3 Million
64 (2008)  72
(2007)   -11%

8.    Massachusetts
       Rank 15, 6.5Million
332 (2008) 350 (2007) -5.1%

   New Jersey        Rank 11, 8.7
(2008) 809 (2007) +8%

10.   New
York State    Rank 3, 19.5 Million
(2008) 647 (2007)   -7.8%

  Pennsylvania        Rank 6,
   90 (2008) 136 
(2007)   -33.8%

12.  Tennessee
       Rank 17, 6.2Million
(2008) 296 (2007)  +3.7%

13.  Texas
2, 24.3 Million
(2008) 243 (2007) +1.2%

  Virginia          Rank 12,
7.8 Million
(2008) 371 (2007)  -9.2%

 Washington State    Rank 13, 6.5 Million
  236 (2008) 201 (2007) +17%

  4,911 (2008)   5,011 (2007) Change  -1.99%


York City, NY 

(2008) 300 (2007) -67  / -22%   Source: NYPD

Angeles County, CA
(2008) 763 (2007)  -34  / -4%

Note: Some state and local data will vary from FBI processed data for the same period. Cross comparisons are discouraged as different states employ different standards and reporting efficiencies. 

2009 Hate Survey -