State Auditors Say California Underreports Hate Crimes
California is underreporting hate crimes to the FBI, state lawmakers and the public because local law enforcement agencies lack adequate policies and training, state auditors said Thursday.
The audit largely blames the state Department of Justice, which oversees the data collection, for not requiring that local agencies do a better job.
Even with the under-counting, reported hate crimes in California increased by more than 20 percent from 2014 to 2016, from 758 to 931. Hate crimes are defined as those targeting victims because of their race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or a disability.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who oversees the department and is running to retain the office in next week's primary election, announced shortly after the audit's release that he has provided more guidance for local law enforcement and created a new hate crimes prevention webpage and brochure on identifying and reporting hate crimes.
The auditors found that a "lack of proactive guidance and oversight from DOJ has contributed to the underreporting and misreporting of hate crime information."
The Department of Justice blamed decade-old budget cuts for eliminating its quality assurance reviews of local law enforcement agencies and said it will seek more money to improve its oversight and community outreach.
Auditors found problems with hate crime policies at all four agencies they reviewed, including the Los Angeles Police Department, Orange County Sheriff's Department, Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and the San Francisco State University Police Department. The four agencies combined underreported hate crimes by about 14 percent, or a total of 97 hate crimes.
Most of the underreporting was by the LAPD, which objected to some of the findings and said it already has new policies and procedures to comply with auditors' recommendations. Of 622 hate crimes identified by the LAPD from 2014-2016, auditors found that 89 were not reported to the state.
The four departments together misidentified another dozen cases that auditors said should have been reported as hate crimes.
Another 36 apparent hate crimes were not reported by various university police agencies, auditors found.
Hate crimes are also underreported because nearly a third of the 245 law enforcement agencies surveyed by auditors do nothing to encourage the public to report hate crimes.
That adds to a national underreporting problem: Federal authorities estimate that more than half of all hate crimes aren't reported to police.
An Associated Press investigation two years ago found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff's departments nationwide had not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI's annual crime tally during the previous six years, or about 17 percent of all city and county law enforcement agencies.
Advocates said the lack of an accurate count masks the extent of bias crimes at a time of heightened racial, religious and ethnic tensions.
Auditors found that San Francisco State University police needed to update their outdated definition of hate crimes, while the two sheriff's departments should give patrol officers forms that help characterize hate crimes.
Agencies should also provide periodic refresher hate crime training to officers and more community outreach encouraging reporting of hate crimes, auditors said.