Why did the FBI undercount antisemitic hate crimes?

The FBI’s tally of antisemitic hate crimes in 2021 was a massive undercount (washingtonexaminer.com).

In a typical year, the numbers are the story: Jews are about 2% of Americans but have topped the FBI’s religiously motivated hate crime category “since 1991, often registering between 9-13% of overall hate [crime] totals.” This year, though, the story is why the FBI’s data so undercounted antisemitic hate crimes that Congress wants revised statistics.

Last week, the FBI reported there were 324 antisemitic hate crimes in 2021, about one-third of the year’s 1,013 religiously motivated crimes. By contrast, there were 683 antisemitic hate crimes in 2020, approximately 55% of the total. And 2019 saw 963 antisemitic hate crimes, about 63% of that pre-pandemic year’s total.

Several organizations that track hate crimes believe the FBI’s 2021 number is an undercount. And the FBI, which did not respond to requests for comment, seemingly agrees; last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said a “full 63% of religious hate crimes are motivated by antisemitism.”

According to Secure Community Network National Director and CEO Michael Masters, “ 37%of law enforcement agencies, representing approximately a third of the U.S. population, did not report into the FBI’s system for 2021.” The absence of New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles, home to many Jews, skews the data, as does the fact that “ 35 major U.S. cities[including Chicago, with its sizable Jewish population] simply reported zero hate crimes.”

It’s an issue that “approximately 4,000 agencies have not yet made the transition” to the FBI’s new reporting system. However, the limited reporting could have other explanations too.

For instance, Masters observes, “Agencies that report to the FBI through their states were also excluded if their states did not participate in the new system, as was the case for several large agencies and states.” Beyond that, police departments may hesitate to assign officers to nonpatrol work amid rising crime. The New York Police Department has hemorrhaged staff, “with 465 officers quitting in 2020 and 888 quitting in 2021,” along with 1,426 in 2022. There have been “about 3,300 officers who retired , resigned, were fired — or lost their lives while wearing the badge” in Chicago since 2019. And the Los Angeles Police Department’s chief commented , “‘In the last 3 years this organization has lost more than 600 personnel to retirement and we didn’t hire new academy recruits to replace them.’”

So, what should 2021’s total look like? Brian Levin, the director of California State University, San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, would start by including New York City’s 207 hate crimes, California’s 151, and Chicago’s revised total of eight. That’s 366 antisemitic hate crimes beyond the already published 324, and there are surely more. Levin’s center found that antisemitic hate crimes “ended the year up 59% in major U.S. cities” and that Jews “were in the top five [targeted groups] in over half the cities surveyed.”

SCN explains why all of this matters: “Hate crime statistics include only committed criminal offenses motivated by bias … hate crime data does not fully represent the level of risk to the Jewish community. In just the last six months, SCN’s intelligence analysts have identified over 4,400 risk events that directly impacted the Jewish community. After thorough vetting, more than 200 individuals were referred to law enforcement for further investigation, leading to the arrests of numerous potentially violent offenders.”

To ensure better data going forward, Congress should have the FBI verify local law enforcement has mastered the new reporting system for 2023. Congress should also mandate crime reporting and consider what support tribal, local, and state law enforcement agencies need to fulfill federal data requests. Regardless of 2021’s published statistics, the threat posed by antisemitism hasn’t evaporated.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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