JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - A 3 On Your Side investigation finds eight percent of all law enforcement agencies in Mississippi actually reported hate crime information to the federal government, making it difficult to determine how prevalent they are in the Magnolia State.
The Gray National Investigative Team also found overwhelming evidence that suggests many law enforcement agencies nationwide, even the FBI itself, don’t report when these crimes take place, either.
Here in the Jackson metro, just four police departments reported hate crime information to the Bureau that year: Byram, Clinton, Florence and Madison.
“It’s extremely concerning. We know that hate crimes went under reported around the country, but we also know that there was a 17 percent increase in hate crimes that occurred that were reported," Human Rights Campaign state director Rob Hill said.
That 17 percent figure could be wrong, though, because the data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation relies on for those determinations comes from thousands of law enforcement agencies around the country, many of which do not report anything on hate crimes to the Bureau.
Take these Mississippi killings prosecuted as federal hate crimes: Mercedes Williamson, a transgender woman stabbed and beaten to death on the Gulf Coast in 2015, and James Craig Anderson, a black man beaten and run over by a group of young white men in Jackson in 2011.
Neither of these homicides shows up in those federal statistics, not from the local law enforcement agencies that investigated them nor the FBI, which is actually required by federal law to report those crimes.
In Mississippi, only 28 law enforcement agencies reported any kind of hate crime information to the federal government in 2017.
Of those, only one agency reported a hate crime. The other 27 reported zero to the FBI.
For context, that means more than 90 percent of the state’s agencies didn’t report anything.
Since 2010, our investigation found fifteen metro-area agencies haven’t participated in providing hate crime information to the FBI: three county sheriff’s departments (Rankin, Copiah, and Simpson), and 12 municipal police departments (Canton, Crystal Springs, Edwards, Flora, Flowood, Hazlehurst, Mendenhall, Pearl, Pelahatchie, Raymond, Richland, and Ridgeland).
The reason most commonly given: they didn’t report any because they didn’t have any to report.
“We encourage you to report [anyway]. If it’s a zero, report a zero. But also, they need to take measures to make sure that they are investigating all of these crimes that occur, to make sure, to see that there is evidence that a crime may be bias motivated,” Hill said.
Hill said it’s absolutely essential for local law enforcement agencies to start developing leads before they call the FBI in to investigate, ensuring that cases of discrimination and hatred don’t fall through the cracks.
“Very often, the federal government, the FBI is waiting on, or relying on, local law enforcement -- sheriff’s departments, local city police departments -- to investigate and provide evidence that a crime was bias motivated before they step in, so if the local law enforcement don’t have the tools, they are not educated around this, then we miss out," Hill said.
Hill pushed for bills this year that would strengthen Mississippi’s hate crimes statute -- by adding sexual orientation, gender identity and disability -- to the list.
Despite bipartisan support, both died in committee.
Mississippi’s reporting problem also stems from the fact that the FBI doesn’t require local law enforcement to report hate crimes.
Neither does Mississippi. It’s one of 20 states that has no data collection or reporting requirement.
But by 2021, that will change.
House Bill 1040 will require every single law enforcement agency to use the National Incident-Based Reporting System, NIBRS, to track and report its crimes to the FBI, whether motivated by hate or otherwise.
Byram Police Chief Luke Thompson said Mississippi agencies will be able to provide far more information about hate crimes than ever before.
“If that crime is the result of prejudice because of someone’s race or gender or sexual orientation or religion or ethnicity, whether we actually charge someone with that hate crime, we will charge them with the offense and we will record the bias,” Thompson said.
Thompson believes that wealth of information will also help lawmakers and law enforcers alike when it comes to crime prevention because of how thorough the reporting process will be.
“The Legislature’s looking at problems from 30,000 feet, going, ‘We can fix it this way, this way, this way or this way.’ So the problem’s being fixed from the wrong end of the spectrum. What NIBRS is going to allow us to do is to communicate effectively back to our legislature exactly what our problems are, exactly what the biases are, exactly what the challenges are that we need to overcome, and then it’s going to allow us to fix that problem together on the way back down to the street level," he said.
Hill said he feels encouraged by that news, even though FBI data shows hate crimes against LGBTQ members continue to rise and Mississippi still doesn’t have protections for them.
“I’m a gay man who has called Mississippi home for all my life, born and raised here. Why would a significant part of our population not be protected and not feel safe in a state that’s their home?" Hill said.