MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The FBI severely underestimates the number of crimes of bigotry and racism, from petty vandalism to murder, a report released Thursday says.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said the FBI counts about 8,000 bias-motivated crimes in America annually, but the actual number may total 50,000.
“Obviously, there’s something wrong with that system,” said Mark Potok, an editor of an article in the center’s Intelligence Report.
The national statistics are skewed because many police officers don’t label offenses as hate crimes, and some states report having none. The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 calls for compiling data on those incidents, but compliance by police and states is voluntary, the report said.
Even blatant discriminatory crimes often go ignored, the article said. It cited the cases of 19-year-old Sasezley Richardson, a black man slain in Elkhart, Ind., and Billy Jack Gaither, a gay man beaten to death in Sylacauga, Ala.
“These statistics are the basics of public policy, and we cannot effectively address hate crime without these numbers,” Potok said.
The FBI acknowledges flaws in the data but says the system will improve as public and police awareness of bias crimes increases, said Maryvictoria Pyne, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services.
“We don’t look at the numbers as being worthless,” she said.