Preventing rural hate crime

The focus of this chapter is the prevention of hate crime in rural areas. It begins by examining the official hate crime statistics in the United States. Although it is well known that hate crimes are significantly under-represented in the official data, such statistics can nevertheless offer important insights relative to prevention. For example, the data suggest that trends in hate crimes in small towns and rural counties follow patterns similar to those in urban areas and metropolitan counties. This might mean that national events like terrorist attacks and fearmongering in political discourse have similar effects in both rural and urban areas. In addition, the data also suggest a significant shift in the types of hate crime offending since 11 September 2001. The chapter will draw upon Levin and McDevitts typology of hate crime offenders, and this will be compared with data over three time periods from 1995 to 2017.

This chapter considers what this means for the prevention of hate crime, especially in non-metropolitan communities, and introduces a perspective on the prevention of hate crime that focuses on the (psycho) dynamics of rural community places. This perspective was tested in a state-wide survey in West Virginia, a rural southern state of the United States, and found that community dynamics are significantly related to the risk and fear of hate crime and the fear of being attacked by strangers. The implications of this research are explored with regard to the prevention of hate crime in rural communities.

The official hate crime statistics and what they can tell us

Information about the occurrence of hate crime in the United States is mostly based on official reports from state and local police. This local information is sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to be compiled in an annual report of hate crime in the United States. The data collected by the FBI come from two crime reporting systems: (i) the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program; and (ii) the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The sections which follow point to several things from the UCR and the NIBRS which might inform efforts to prevent hate crime in rural areas.

Uniform Crime Reporting program

The UCR Program is a national collection of crime data that is managed by the FBI. Since its inception in the late 1920s, UCR has become one of the primary indicators of crime trends in the United States. Since 1992, state and local police have included hate crimes in their UCR reports to the FBI. According to this data, hate crimes in the United States had been trending downward very slowly since the early 2000s, but this trend appears to be reversing since 2014 (see Figure 9.1).

The vast majority of hate crimes occur in major urban areas. Therefore, any trend analysis concerning rural areas should be considered separately. Between 1992 and 2016 there were 180,852 hate crimes reported to the FBI’s UCR Program from state and local police agencies. Only 4,450 (2.5%) occurred in rural areas and 20,171 (11.2%) occurred in small towns under 10,000 residents. Although it is recognised that hate crimes - like all crimes - are vastly undercounted in the UCR data, this undercount tends to be relatively stable. This means that although the total volume of hate crimes is suspect, the trends over time may be valid (Gove, Hughes & Geerken, 1985; Nolan, Haas & Napier, 2011).

The argument is this: the level of seriousness needed for both victims to report and the police to record the hate crime tend to remain stable over time.

FBI UCR Hate Crime Trends in Large Cities and Metro Counties and Small Towns and Rural Counties, 1992-2016

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Large City and Metro County — — -Small Town and Rural County

Figure 9.1 Trends in hate crime reports in non-rural and rural jurisdictions, 1992-2016

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, 1992-2016. Data retrieved from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data at the University of Michigan.

Note: Small towns (fewer than 10,000 residents) and rural counties weighted x 6 for trend comparison on same scale.

In Figure 9.1, the small-town and rural county data are weighted by a factor of six for comparable trend analysis. In this depiction of crime, both urban and rural areas peaked in 2001, the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.There were also slight temporary increases in hate crime in rural areas in 2008—9 and in 2012, which coincide with the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. However, since 2014, both urban and rural hate crimes appear to follow the same rising pattern.

One way to check the validity of the trends is to look at peak months for particular types of hate crimes to see if they coincide with some triggering event locally, nationally or internationally. Out of 300 months of available data (1992-2016), the top month for anti-white hate crimes was May 1992, which coincided with the Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King. The top month for anti-Islam hate crimes was September 2001, and the peak months for hate crimes against gay men align with the passage of laws supporting same-sex marriage. Further, in November 2016, the month Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, hate crimes peaked to a level not seen in over a decade. In other words, the fear and uncertainty generated by terrorist attacks and hostile political discourse seem to affect rural and urban areas similarly.

National Incident-Based Reporting System

As the name suggests, the NIBRS is an incident-level reporting of crimes in the United States. NIBRS is a rich source of information on each criminal incident and is scheduled to replace the traditional UCR Program beginning in 2021. As of now, however, approximately 35 percent of national crime data reported to the FBI from state and local law enforcement agencies come in NIBRS format. Between 1995 and 2016, there were 160,634 hate crimes reported to the FBI, and 45,557 (28.4%) of these hate crimes were reported via NIBRS.These more detailed reports provide an opportunity to explore the changing nature of hate crime offenders in the United States and especially since 11 September 2001. These findings are important especially because they can tell us more about the nature of events and the characteristics of the offenders (Momen, 2008).

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