Reporting Recipe: Investigating Your Police Department’s Handling of Hate Crime Reports

As part of our Documenting Hate project, we posted a story detailing how and why law enforcement agencies mishandle hate crime data, which they’re asked to report annually to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. We’re opening up the records we collected for that story so journalists can assess how their local law enforcement agencies they cover measure up.

In the course of our reporting, several large police departments told us that their lack of records on hate crimes reflected the fact that their citizens weren’t often the victims of such crimes. But our reporting found evidence of spotty record keeping across the country, in departments large and small. Some agencies, like Miami-Dade’s county police, told ProPublica that they had failed to fill out forms that would identify crimes as having a bias motivation, even when the evidence supported such a classification. Other agencies sent us records of crimes they marked as bias-motivated but were omitted from their reports to the FBI.

Reporting local stories using this data is fairly straightforward:

  1. Make a public records request to your local law enforcement agency for records of bias-motivated crimes reported to or investigated the agency. Here is an example of such a request.
  2. Compare those to the records that agency has reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system. You can see the number of crimes reported by your local law enforcement agency to the FBI below. Also, compare the numbers your local agency has reported to the FBI with numbers reported by agencies in similarly sized cities. If they're much higher or lower than you'd expect given the population size, ask why.
  3. If there are discrepancies, ask about the agency’s process for recording and responding to hate crimes. Is there a check box on a crime incident report form to mark it as a potential hate crime? When and how are officers instructed to check those off? Is there a second level of review to determine whether something is or is not a hate crime? How do authorities treat incidents like racist graffiti or property damage? These questions can give you insight into whether the agency and officers within it treat hate crimes as the FBI and experts expect.

To help reporters get at these answers, we’re providing seven three (seven if you're on a desktop computer) years of FBI hate crimes data for every agency in the Bureau’s records below, along with documents from agencies that responded to our public records requests.

If you use this data we’d appreciate it if you cite us and link to the form we use to collect the stories of hate crime victims and witnesses. Here’s some sample language: “Since the presidential election last year, news organizations including ProPublica have been collecting people’s stories of hate crimes and bias incidents. If you’ve been a victim of bias-motivated harassment or violence, or if you’ve witnessed something and want to tell your story, let them know.”

Hate Crimes Reported to the FBI — and Agency Records

Below are the last seven three (seven if you're on a desktop computer) years of FBI hate crimes data for local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Each year has a count of the reported hate crime incidents, while a dash indicates that an agency did not report to the FBI for that year. You can search for a specific agency by name, or filter down to agencies within a state. If we've sent a records request to that agency and received a definitive response, you will see a link in the “Records Available ” column. Because records sometimes include the identities of victims, we’re not making unredacted incident reports available for public download. Reporters can email Rachel Glickhouse to request responses listed as “Contact Us”.

Source: FBI Hate Crime master files, ICPSR Law Enforcement Agency Identifiers Crosswalk.