Hate Crimes on the Rise? Maybe or Maybe Not

The criminologists over at the General Blog of Crime linked to a keen observation in what I like to think of as the media's "Annual Misuse of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)."

Note: I realize that others call it the misuse of hate crime stats, but with all of the "most dangerous states/cities" lists based on the UCRs that appear in print, I think the more general title is applicable.

Perhaps you saw a news story this week about "Hate Crimes Increasing" or something like this deceptive bit from CBS News:

Hate crimes rose slightly in 2008, with bias-motivated attacks based on race, religion and sexual orientation all increasing, according to new data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Overall, there were 7,783 criminal incidents reported last year. Those incidents involved 9,168 offenses. In 2007, there were 7,624 criminal incidents involving 9,006 offenses reported...
Why is this article misleading?

Mark Thompson at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen offers this:

The problem is that these particular FBI statistics are virtually useless for evaluating year-to-year trends – always have been, always will be.

This year, the FBI itself went out of its way to warn against such readings, stating “our Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program doesn’t report trends in hate crime stats—yearly increases or decreases often occur because the number of agencies who report to us varies from year to year...”
Thompson also lists other reasons why current offense counts in the UCRs should not be compared to the data of previous years including differences in state laws and/or prosecutorial attitudes and priorities, as well differing rates of individual agency participation by state.

In sum, the Uniform Crime Reports can be a useful tool in examining frequency and dispersion of crime in the US, but understanding the initiative's limitations are essential in detecting the false assumptions used to generate mainstream media articles.


Happy Thanksgiving!


J. J. in Phila said...

I think there are inherent proplems with "hate crime" statistics.

I'm disabled. Is someone attacks me, is it because he hates the disabled or becaue I look like an easy target?

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

That's very good to know. I wonder if places like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League know this, since they track hate crimes.

BTW, I love the new blog look--though I have to say, I find it hard to read white on black.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!!

J. J. in Phila said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you Slamdunk.

Slamdunk said...

Hate crimes are a difficult issue to track and I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center uses its own methodology, but I'll have to check on it.

@ Katherine: Thanks for the feedback. I downloaded a few different layouts and am testing them now. I am not sure I like the black background either.

Dan said...

As Mister Twain was fond of proclaiming - ... lies, damn lies, and statistics ...

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
This is very good information. I went to the "League" site and then to the FBI site.

The differences in reporting from state to state or agency to agency would seem to call for a nationwide standardization of reporting by local agencies (eek, the paperwork).

But the FBI itself says you have to look at so much data on the local level (transportation patterns, family structure, population density). I noticed that 11 states helped the FBI figure out how to do the reporting. You can't take the local out!

I wish AP and CBS would consider their job of "Informing" to include "Educating". But I suppose we can't make them do it, since so few people hold them accountable for this.

Thanks for pointing this out!

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Oh, and like Katherine MG, I like your blog look! I trolled their site for blog templates.

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend,
Ann T.

Stephanie Faris said...

I used to work for an agency that worked directly with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Even where I work now works with them a little. They aren't really in the business of compiling statistics and reporting data. They have way too much going on, and the FBI has even more. But everyone wants to use their databases, don't they?