US Attorney, FBI on Alaska hate crimes: 'They are prosecuted'
Mistakes in an FBI hate crime report highlight the need for more law enforcement training. While hate crimes may not be recorded accurately in the agency's database, U.S. Attorney for Alaska Bryan Schroder says the cases are being prosecuted in Alaska.
"Even if they are not prosecuted federally as a hate crime, they are prosecuted," Schroder said.
The FBI defines hate crime as "a committed criminal offense which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias(es) against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."
According to Schroder, there are no active hate crime cases in Alaska, and no cases have been prosecuted as such in recent years. He notes that the definition of a hate crime requires proof that the criminal act was motivated by a discriminatory bias.
"We've got to have that evidence," he said. "And often, the state prosecutes and gets an effective sentence, so there really is no need to bring it in as a hate crime in most cases."
For its annual reports, the FBI relies on voluntary reports from departments that go directly into a national database. Field offices, like the one in Anchorage, see the tally once it's made public.
FBI Special Agent Adam Pierce says since the report was released, the field office has reviewed all hate crime reports statewide and reached out to individual police departments.
"The Uniform Crime Report is one data point, and that's how we view it. That's kind of us making sure that we haven't missed anything," Pierce said. "But our primary is our regular outreach to local departments."
Pierce notes that victims or communities affected by potential hate crimes sometimes contact FBI field offices directly.
National studies suggest there is a lack of reliable statistics on hate crimes across the country. As ProPublica reports, the FBI relies on local law enforcement to identify and report crimes motivated by bias, but many agencies fumble the task. That happened in the agency's most recent report on Alaska hate crimes.
It shows seven reported hate crimes statewide in 2018; three came from Fairbanks. But after the report was published, the Fairbanks police chief told reporters there was a training issue in the department. The incidents it reported as hate crimes didn't meet the criteria.
"We're going to partner with them to make sure they have the proper training and to get the best data that we can," Pierce said of the mix-up.
As for updating the national report, Pierce says the Fairbanks Police Department would have to request an amendment to correct its numbers.
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