News 5 Investigates: Tracking hate crimes in Alabama is a flawed and messy process

News 5 Investigates

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — FBI statistics suggest Alabama has the fewest hate crimes of any state. However, WKRG News 5 investigated and learned there are some major flaws with the report.

The most glaring mistake is the fact that the FBI report says there were zero hate crimes in the entire state in 2019 — we’ve determined there were four just in Mobile.

The FBI on Monday released its 2019 Hate Crime Statistics, a report compiled by the Unified Crime Reporting (UCR) program. Among the trends revealed by the report, hate crime murders reached a record high last year, with 51 people killed in hate-motivated crimes, most of those in the El Paso Walmart mass shooting in which the suspect targeted Latinos.

The report says there were 7,314 hate crime incidents across the country in 2019.

According to the report, only two agencies in the entire state of Alabama submitted 2019 data regarding hate crimes to the FBI’s national database.

By comparison, all states surrounding Alabama had significantly higher participation — Florida had 638 participating agencies, Georgia had 495, Tennessee had 465, and Mississippi had 42.

Those four states reported a combined 344 hate crimes. Meanwhile, Alabama was the only state to report zero hate crimes.

WKRG News 5 investigators knew this likely wasn’t accurate, that the zero figure was more than likely due to the low number of agencies participating in the report — the report includes a footnote that says “limited data for 2019 were available for Alabama.”

The report says the two agencies that participated in Alabama — the City of Hoover and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians — both reported zero hate crime incidents in 2019. However, both Mobile Police and Foley Police told WKRG News 5 they also submitted their data to the FBI, something not reflected in the report.

“It’s somewhat alarming that that data is not being captured,” Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said.

With the FBI totals for Alabama glaringly incomplete, it’s unclear exactly how many hate crimes actually occurred in the state in 2019. In order to determine a figure, one would have to contact every single law enforcement agency in the state. In a year with so many people calling for better transparency, should it really be this difficult to get a clear answer on Alabama’s statewide totals?

“I hope if there is a glitch in the process, it gets corrected so that it doesn’t show that Alabama is not thinking progressively and not tracking something as important as how we feel about hate crimes being reported across the state,” Chief Battiste said. “It sends a very negative message to the rest of the country.”

WKRG News 5 reached out to several local law enforcement agencies to find out their totals. Here are the responses we received:

  • Mobile Police told us there were four hate crimes committed in 2019. The department says it submitted those numbers to UCR.

  • The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office told us it does not track hate crime statistics but instead leaves it up to the courts to enhance sentencing if a crime is determined to be hate-motivated.

  • Foley Police said there were zero hate crimes in 2019. The department says it submitted data to the UCR report, so it isn’t sure why the information is not reflected.

  • Gulf Shores Police recorded zero hate crimes in 2019, adding — “The state collection system is a mess. Hopefully, they will get their act together soon.”

  • Daphne Police did not record any hate crimes in 2019.

According to the FBI report, the state with the highest number of participating agencies in 2019 was Pennsylvania with 1,424. The state with the highest number of agencies actually reporting hate crime incidents was New Jersey with 208.

California had the most hate crime incidents reported with 1,015.

WKRG News 5 has reached out to the FBI to try to get an explanation for the discrepancies with Alabama’s hate crime numbers.

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