US lawmakers urge FBI to improve hate crimes data collection after limited report

House Rep. Kathy Manning, co-chair of task force for combating antisemitism, says new data system partly to blame after swaths of country failed to report any bias incidents

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: New York police secure a Jewish community event in New York City, May 19, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: New York police secure a Jewish community event in New York City, May 19, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

A group of US Congress members urged the FBI to step up its data collection for hate crimes in a Tuesday meeting after a widely criticized report from the agency left out information from large swaths of the country.

The FBI’s Monday report on hate crimes in the US in 2021 did not contain any data from New York City, most of Florida and all of California, areas where some of the largest American Jewish populations are located.

Jewish groups expressed alarm over the report, saying that it underrepresented threats to their communities as other data indicate surging antisemitism.

US House Representative Kathy Manning, a North Carolina Democrat and the co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, said the data shortfall was partly due to a new national data collection system. Manning and other Congress members met with FBI deputy assistant director Brian Griffith on Tuesday after the report’s release.

Law enforcement officials decided to create a new data collection system for hate crimes in the 1990s that would require the input of more detailed information, including on the perpetrator, the victim, the relationship between them and the crime’s motivation.

But the system, called the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, was not fully implemented and in 2015, the FBI informed local law enforcement agencies that they would have to start using it by 2021.

US House Representative Kathy Manning at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington on July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Many law enforcement agencies apparently did not successfully make the transition, however, leading to Monday’s incomplete report. Around one-third of all agencies did not submit data for the report, while other cities, such as Chicago, used the system but reported zero hate crimes.

Despite the report’s shortcomings, it tallied 7,262 hate crime incidents in 2021, the third-highest number in a decade. Anti-Jewish hate crimes were the largest percentage of religion-based hate crimes.

It’s still unclear what happened at the ground level to cause the data collection failure, Manning said, but she speculated that the need for increased detail may have been too burdensome and time-consuming for local rank-and-file officers.

“There needs to be an analysis of why this data wasn’t submitted; and frankly, if the way the system is set up is overly burdensome and doesn’t work, we need to be aware of that,” said Manning, who previously served as the chair of the Board of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Manning met with the FBI along with seven other Democratic lawmakers and one Republican. They asked the FBI to provide an update by the end of the first quarter of 2023 on what happened with the collection process and to see if they could gather more data.

Signs hang on a fence surrounding the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, on September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar/File)

The lawmakers also raised the prospect of making it mandatory for agencies to report hate crimes, since it is now voluntary, Manning said.

The FBI was taking the issue seriously and Manning stressed that she was not criticizing law enforcement agencies, which have prevented antisemitic violence in the past year.

Better data will give a more complete picture of how widespread the problem is and will facilitate a better response, including by providing insight into who the perpetrators are, she said.

“What we have experienced in the Jewish community over the past few years is violence against Jewish houses of worship, against Jewish centers, Jewish organizations and Jewish individuals, I think unlike anything we’ve seen in the past,” Manning said, highlighting deadly attacks in recent years in Pittsburgh, California’s Poway and Monsey in New York.

Police stationed outside a synagogue after threats to the Jewish community, in New York City, November 4, 2022. (Luke Tress/ Times of Israel)

“We’re seeing a growth in antisemitic rhetoric from prominent people in the entertainment industry,” she said. “We see it on college campuses, we’re now seeing it in high schools, and it’s unacceptable that Jews should fear for their lives or be subjected to embarrassment or intimidation or ridicule.”

Federal and local officials have moved to turn back the tide of rising antisemitism in the US in recent weeks.

The White House on Monday announced the establishment of an inter-agency committee aimed at combating antisemitism, heeding calls from US lawmakers and leading American Jewish organizations who urged a “whole of government approach” to the intensifying phenomenon.

New York officials have announced a series of measures to combat antisemitism and other hate crimes in recent weeks amid near-daily reported attacks on the state’s Jewish community, the country’s largest.

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