What FBI hate crime statistics do and don't tell us about Michigan

There are some discrepancies in the FBI's stats on hate crimes.

MICHIGAN - Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases a report that is a compilation of hate crime data they've received from law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

In that report, Michigan is listed as the state with the  4th highest number of hate crimes in the country. This is how hate crime is defined in Michigan: 

A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. 

But that picture might not be accurate. Law enforcement agencies are not required to report those numbers to the FBI -- and many U.S. agencies don't submit all their data, if they submit any at all.

During 2016, 399 hate crimes were reported to the FBI from Michigan agencies. That's an increase from 2015, when the FBI reported 309 hate crimes in Michigan. But there were also more agencies reporting to the FBI this year: 166 in 2016 versus 127 in 2015.

The FBI reports that a total of 625 Michigan agencies participated, which means that 459 agencies reported no hate crimes in their jurisdiction.

The number of agencies who submitted incident reports in Michigan was second only to the state of California, which had 213.

Other states, like Texas, for example had more than 1,000 participating agencies, but only 66 reported any hate crimes.

It could be possible that there were no hate crimes in those areas, but it's unlikely. In a speech, former FBI Director James Comey commented on the gathering of hate crime statistics. 

"There are jurisdictions that fail to report hate crime statistics. Other jurisdictions claim there were no hate crimes in their community—a fact that would be welcome if true. We must continue to impress upon our state and local counterparts in every jurisdiction the need to track and report hate crime. It is not something we can ignore or sweep under the rug," said Comey. 

So, there are a lot of numbers involved, but they are important numbers. An incomplete understanding of this data can provide an inaccurate picture of the communities we live in.

Michigan Incident Crime Reporting 

There is a more inclusive report available through the Michigan State Police's Michigan Incident Crime Report (MICR), which has different stats on hate crimes than the FBI report. 

Unlike the FBI crime report, MICR only includes sheriff, MSP and police departments for a total of 571 agencies, yet the number of hate crimes in their 2016 report is much higher.

Shanon Banner of MSP wrote in an email that MSP freezes the numbers used in their report in May 2017, which could be the reason for some of the differences in their statistics. 

Here's the synopsis provided in MICR 2016 report:

The total number of reported hate crime incidents in 2016 was 494.

This is a twenty‐four percent increase when compared to 2015. These incidents involved 583 victims, 452 known offenders, and resulted in 583 offenses.

Incidents refer to the crime while the offense totals include how many victims were actually affected by the incident.

So, 494 versus 399. 

 

Why the FBI and MSP reports are different 

Banner wrote in an email that the reason for the difference in those incident numbers is because between May 2017 (when MSP freezes their numbers) and October 2017 (when the FBI freezes their numbers) changes are made to the data. 

During those six months, police agencies continued to investigate some of these crimes, potentially determining there was no hate/bias motivation. Also, during those six months, the FBI worked with us to review the data and in some cases it was determined the incident was accidentally [sic] entered as a Hate/Bias Crime when in fact it wasn’t at all (administrative error).

According to the FBI report, Kent County had the possibility of 10 reported hate crimes -- the highest of the reporting counties, but the MICR report paints a different picture.

Wayne County, for example, actually reported more than 100 hate crimes, but that county is not represented in the FBI's breakdown.

Instead those numbers are broken down by city, leaving Wayne County as a whole unrepresented. 

Also, the FBI only accepts data that covers a full 12-month period, whereas, the MSP includes any amount of reporting data in the MICR. That is one possibility of why Wayne County may have not been included. 

In another email Banner provided this explanation: 

Additional investigation time allows agencies who may have initially indicated a crime to be hate/bias motivated to update the information in the FBI database.  The additional time also allowed our analysts to work with the FBI to verify all incidents through a new monthly verification process that is now also in place to increase the accuracy of the data.

Things to note regarding hate crime in Michigan

The MICR contains data from all departments with these exceptions:

According to the MICR report, the motivation behind most hate crimes during 2016 was racial in nature followed by religious motivations.

It's also worth noting that in Michigan, the law against hate crimes is called the Ethnic Intimidation Act  -- which does not include hate crimes motivated by a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. But according to the MICR report, 12 percent of Michigan's hate crimes are due to the victim's sexual orientation.

The maximum punishment for a hate crime in Michigan is two years. So, for example, in cases of a hate crime including assault -- the punishment would be greater for a person charged with felonious assault, even if their was a bias motivation.

Lastly, the MICR 2016 report sites a 23 percent increase in hate crimes since 2015. 

Rose White contributed reporting to this story. 

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