Figures recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation demonstrate that local law enforcement entities across the United States are massively underreporting hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and show the necessity for more effective legislation mandating that hate crimes be reported to the federal government.
Under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, local law enforcement authorities are not required to report hate crimes to the FBI. Indeed, the FBI's report states, "Though the reports from these agencies are insufficient to allow valid national or regional measure of the volume and types of crimes motivated by hate, they offer perspectives on the general nature of hate crime occurrence."
According to the report, a total of 12,122 law enforcement agencies in 48 states and the District of Columbia reported a total of 7,876 bias-motivated criminal incidents to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Of the 7,876 incidents, racial bias motivated 4,295; religious bias was associated with 1,411; sexual orientation bias accounted for 1,317; and 853 crimes were motivated by ethnicity/national origin bias, disability bias or other factors.
While the FBI reported 1,317 hate crimes based on sexual orientation, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, relying on data from just 25 cities or other jurisdictions across the country, reported 1,965 incidents of hate bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, the FBI reported just three murders of gay or lesbian people motivated by hate violence. By contrast, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported 29 murders motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity during the year 1999; in Detroit alone, eight people were murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity-higher than the three murder victims identified in the entire United States by the FBI. In addition, the rate of murders of transgender people is believed to be disproportionately high-and is often ignored by law enforcement authorities and the media.
"Local law enforcement officials are massively underreporting the number of hate crimes motivated by a person's sexual orientation or gender identity," said Elizabeth Toledo, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "In some cases, authorities are simply not trained adequately to gather and report the statistics. In other instances, they lack the willpower or motivation. What these statistics tell us is that reporting of hate crimes must become mandatory in every state and every jurisdiction in the United States."
Toledo urged local activists to go to the FBI's web site, examine the report and compare it with crimes of hate bias that have been reported in their community or their state. The report is located at www.fbi.gov/ucr/99hate.pdf
Toledo added that local police departments need to be equipped with anti-bias units and need to step up hiring of GLBT police officers. In addition, she said, front-line service providers such as community centers and anti-violence programs need enhanced funding in order to prevent and deter additional acts of violence and to counsel people who have been subjected to violence.
Finally, Toledo said, conservatives who control Congress should allow a vote on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. "Although this legislation is not enough to end hate crimes, it will send a message that singling people out because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability status is wrong," Toledo said.
A hate crimes measure that died in Congress last year would have added actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender and disability to federal hate crimes laws, which currently include race, color, national origin and religion. It also would have enabled federal law enforcement officials to better enforce hate crimes laws and prosecute hate crimes.
Polls show that conservatives, moderates and progressives all favor hate crimes legislation. A poll conducted last year by the firm Garin Hart Yang asked voters whether they would be more or less likely to support a candidate who did not support legislation to strengthen the prosecution of violent hate crimes motivated by prejudice against the race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation of the victim. A full 66 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate, including 54 percent of Republican respondents. The poll was conducted over a three-day period in late August and has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.