Hate crimes in Berkeley and beyond

A look at hate crime reporting over the last 25 years

February 03, 2022
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Aarthi Muthukumar | Senior Staff

A lot of things happened in 2020: the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the presidential election. It was also the year the nation saw the highest number of reported hate crimes — 8,263, to be exact — in nearly two decades, according to FBI data. Could the same be true for Berkeley?

Using the FBI’s hate crime explorer, we visualized the total number of reported hate crimes within UC Berkeley and the surrounding city from 1995 to 2020.

Count of hate crimes in Berkeley and UC Berkeley, 1995-2020

The number of hate crimes in both the city of Berkeley and campus were generally low except for some sharp peaks. The city saw more than 20 hate crimes in 2002, 2003 and 2017, which closely followed the Sept. 11 attacks and the #MeToo movement. However, campus rates did not follow similar patterns despite efforts to increase reporting.

Hate crime data collection was officially mandated by the 1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act. The act required the U.S. attorney general to collect data on “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, or UCR, website. The attorney general then assigned “the responsibilities of developing the procedures for implementing, collecting, and managing hate crime data” to the director of the FBI, who in turn assigned it to the UCR program.

In the same year Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, it also enacted the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, otherwise known as the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires all college campuses that rely on federal financial aid programs to keep track of and share information about crime on and near their campuses by publishing annual reports of crime and fire statistics.

The first hate crime reporting campus website, stophate.berkeley.edu, was created during the 1999-2000 academic year by the Student Advocate’s Office. The Chancellor’s Taskforce on Hate & Bias took over the site in 2003, though reported campus rates were some of the lowest during that year. A possible explanation for low rates is that students may have chosen to report crimes directly to city authorities.

The largest campus spike occurred in 2010 when UC Berkeley stressed the importance of reporting hate crimes. Increased visibility to a 2008 federal policy change that expanded hate crime definitions to include hate-motivated vandalism could explain the increase in rates.

On a larger scale, we also looked at state and national data. The number of hate crimes in California and within the United States follow a similar pattern, with racially motivated hate crimes being the largest subtype for both. Within California, however, a larger proportion of hate crimes is motivated by race or sexual orientation.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a traditional offense “motivated by the offender’s bias” rather than a separate, distinct crime. Lawmakers amended the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1994 to include disability-motivated hate crimes and again in 2009 to include gender and gender identity-motivated hate crimes and hate crimes “committed by or directed against juveniles.”

The UCR program collects data on the biases outlined by the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which includes disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or sexual orientation. The program also collects data on incidents where there is more than one victim involved and they represent different races or religions. Such incidents are categorized as “Anti-Multiple Races, Group” and “Anti-Multiple Religions, Group,” respectively.

According to the UCR hate crime data collection guidelines and training manual, collecting hate crime data involves a “two-tier decision-making process”:

  1. The law enforcement officer who first responds to the alleged hate crime incident is responsible for determining whether there is any indication that the offender was motivated by bias.
  2. If the officer decides there is, they categorize the incident as a “suspected bias-motivated crime” and send the case file to a second officer, usually someone who is trained in hate crime matters or part of a special hate crimes unit.
  3. The second officer or unit is then responsible for reviewing the facts of the incident and making the final determination of whether a hate crime occurred. If they decide that the incident is a hate crime, the incident is reported to the UCR program as a “bias-motivated crime.”

One of the key components of this two-tiered decision-making process is the phrase “facts of the incident.” According to the UCR program, an incident can only be categorized as a hate crime if the offender(s) and victim(s) of the incident fit certain requirements. This includes, but is not limited to, the offender making “bias-related” verbal or written comments or gestures; the offender being a member of a hate group or causing similar hate crimes; or the offender and victim being different races, religions, disabilities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, genders and/or gender identities. Incidents that qualify as hate crimes include not only physical assault but also vandalism, “hate” graffiti or other visual representations of hate against a group.

There are, however, caveats to these requirements. The FBI strongly recommends that officers and specialized hate crime units carefully assess what happened to ensure there isn't any feigned information. For example, the offender may have shouted a racial slur at the victim, even if they share the same race.

In the case of UCPD, the department also has a system involving “multiple layers of review,” said Sgt. Jacob Westlie in an email. Officers receive reports of crime through calls and document them via in-person reporting. After conducting the preliminary investigation, filing the initial report and offering resources to victims, officers notify the on-duty sergeant. Sergeants monitor and respond to incoming reports while notifying the lieutenant, who then notifies the captain. Officers’ reports are checked by the sergeants, and any crimes requiring additional investigation are forwarded to the department’s Criminal Investigation Bureau.

Notably, in 2008, the Berkeley Police Department reported “no hate crimes that met FBI data collection guidelines.” However, in 2010, Councilwoman Kriss Worthington wrote a support letter addressed to a victim of an alleged hate crime. In the letter, she mentions an incident that occured in March 2008, in which “two gay men were assaulted by a large group of men for their sexual orientation.” And, according to BPD reports from July 25, 2008, a man was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and committing a hate crime after allegedly yelling racial and gender-related slurs and throwing a bottle of juice at a female parking enforcement officer.

“It is not safe to assume no hate crimes or hate incidents occurred just because none were reported,” Westlie said in the email.

UCPD also reported zero hate crimes to the FBI in 1995, 1997, 1999 through 2002, 2011 and 2018 through 2020. However, crimes targeted against specific groups happened on campus these years, and UCPD reported complaints related to discrimination based on race from 2018 to 2020.

In 2017, The Daily Californian was one of 20 college newspapers ProPublica partnered with to uncover how a significant portion of hate crimes across the United States go unreported. When underreporting was raised as a concern, Westlie responded that UCPD is “aware that hate crimes are severely underreported.”

The city of Berkeley has acknowledged hate crime underreporting. Last year, Berkeley’s Homeless Coalition called for the City Council to keep track of hate crimes against homeless people as a way to improve hate crime reporting and response.

For survivors of hate crimes or incidents, UC Berkeley’s Centers for Educational Justice and Community Engagement, or CEJCE, recommends that individuals prioritize safety, receive medical attention if necessary, document evidence of the incident, take care of themselves and most importantly, not blame themselves. CEJCE strongly recommends reporting the incident via the UC-wide hate incident reporting form, even if individuals don’t choose to press charges. Other campus resources current students include the Gender Equity Resource Center, ASUC Student Advocate Office and the Attorney for Students.

Count of hate crimes by type, 1995-2020

Jenny Kwon is a projects developer. Contact them at jkwon@dailycal.org.

Michelle Li is a projects developer. Contact her at mili@dailycal.org.

About this story

This project was developed by the Projects Department at The Daily Californian.

Data for this project come from the FBI Crime Data Explorer.

Questions, comments or corrections? Email projects@dailycal.org.

Code, data and text are open-source on GitHub.

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