FBI hate crime report highlights need for law enforcement training
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual report on hate crimes for 2018 shows hate crimes across the country are marginally down, while reported incidences of hate crimes in Alaska nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018 — however, at least one local police department confirmed Tuesday that some of the data is incorrect.
According to the FBI's 2018 Hate Crime Statistics, 7,120 incidents were reported nationally in 2018, compared to 7,175 in 2017.
In Alaska, the report shows a total of seven incidents reported statewide for 2018.
The numbers have remained low, compared to other states, but have fluctuated from year to year over the last five years:
"While one is too many, that's still much smaller than what we see across much of the United States," said Adam Pierce, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the FBI's Anchorage Field Office during an interview Tuesday.
The 2018 report shows incidents reported by the Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Kotzebue Police Departments. Four of the crimes were categorized as being motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, while two were related to religious discrimination and one involved a disability.
Anchorage police said the one hate crime APD reported in 2018 stemmed from an anonymous call to the Tesoro gas station on Huffman road. Someone threatened, over the phone, to shoot black employees. Nothing came of the threat and there were no arrests.
"We have very few numbers here in Alaska," Pierce said. "One of the things that we were concerned about, as the FBI, was are we sure that the agencies that are reporting have the correct reporting method, understand the law and what we're looking for exactly."
He said he believes there could be other incidents of hate crimes in Alaska that have not been reported or have not been reported properly.
"We have low numbers, but the data is only as good as what we're getting in, so we want to make sure we're reaching out to our state and local partners across the state to get the best information we can to do our jobs better and serve the community better," Pierce said.
KTVA reached out to all Alaska law enforcement agencies that reported hate crimes in 2018.
Fairbanks Police Chief Nancy Reeder said after reviewing the three cases FPD reported as hate crimes, the report highlighted a training issue within her department.
"What we have on our hands is we have a training issue with our officers to understand what a hate crime is. None of those should have been categorized as a hate crime," she said.
Reeder explained one of the incidents involved a suspect calling a caucasian woman the N-word during the commission of a crime, and while the word was offensive, the case did not meet the criteria of a hate crime. She said the department will work to correct the issue and make sure officers have a clear understanding of what constitutes a hate crime.
Without FPD's three cases, it would appear 2018 was on par with 2017 when it comes to hate crimes, with four incidents in each year.
Meanwhile, experts say hate crimes are often under-reported.
"We have to remember that many people who may experience hate crimes, they are people who may be vulnerable, like people who are homeless, people who are immigrants, undocumented immigrants for example, or people who may not be as proficient in English," said E.J. David, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage and member of the Alaska Immigration for Justice Project, in a previous interview with KTVA. "They may be afraid to report their experiences because they fear for their safety or their fear for their status in this country."
David said pursuing justice for hate crimes can also be difficult, as prosecutors must be able to prove the act was motivated by bias.
"Really only the most blatant and most obvious, most egregious cases can meet that legal definition," he said.
Both David and Pierce participated in a Hate Crimes Forum in Anchorage in September.
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