Hate crimes are likely underreported despite documented increase

Eugene O'Donnell [Lecturer, John Jay College of Criminal Justice]: "One of the paradoxes of crime reporting is that statistics sometimes decline when there is little expectation that law enforcement will treat a crime report seriously. Thus, the reported crime rate in some of the nation's largest cities may well be higher than officially reported due to lack of public confidence in the police and low expectations about the services they deliver.

There can be little doubt that hate crimes are underreported, perhaps dramatically so. Many law enforcement agencies, even those that take these matters seriously, are still wrestling with how to classify and handle hate-related complaints. It also can't be ignored that the motivations of assailants are not always made explicitly clear or are easy to discern.

Whether or not someone philosophically believes in enhanced punishment for hate crimes, I can certainly say that the New York city experience, though surely not typical of the American experience, is that hate crimes that are reported to the police are treated with the utmost seriousness. Police officers and superior officers are expected to handle these matters with urgency, empathy and professionalism. This official proscription against intolerant actions can create a more just and less divided national atmosphere, something that is maybe even more important during difficult economic times, when some may be tempted to scapegoat others for their own limited successes."

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