Race-Based Hate Crimes, the UCR, and the NCVS

Which racial groups are targeted for hate crimes, and at what frequency? That turns out to be an interesting question, on which two different datasets offer two different answers.

The United States has two main crime measures, the UCR and the NCVS. The UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) reports on crimes that are reported to, and then reported by, the police. The NCVS reports on what is said by people surveyed through the National Crime Victimization Survey; it includes crimes that aren’t reported to the police, and aspects of crimes that aren’t reported to or by the police.

Each has possible flaws: The UCR doesn’t cover unreported crimes, and in some ways reflects police classification decisions more than anything else. The NCVS is more prone to error as a result of respondent mistakes or falsifications, since no-one investigates the respondents’ claims. (Note that the NCVS asks respondents to report whether a crime was a hate crime based on whether “the victim perceived that the offender was motivated by bias because the offender used hate language, left behind hate symbols, or the police investigators confirmed that the incident was a hate crime.”) To give you a sense of the difference between the two, note that the UCR Hate Crime Statistics 2005 reports 7163 hate crime incidents in 2005; the NCVS Hate Crime Reported by Victims and Police (2003-2009 data) estimates “an annual average of 195,000 hate crime victimizations.” Figure out for yourself which you think is most plausible. My sense is that the NCVS tends to be more reliable (except as to homicide, which the UCR measures pretty well, and which the NCVS for obvious reasons doesn’t measure at all).

In any case, what does the UCR tell us about 2005 race-based hate crime incidents? Of the 3919 such incidents, 21% were anti-white and 67% were anti-black. Keep in mind that 75% of the population is white and 12% is black (numbers subject to change slightly depending on how one allots the “other” category and multiracial categories; Hispanics are not classified as a separate race). The UCR data suggests that the victimization rate for race-based hate crimes is 20 times higher for blacks than for whites. Likewise, there were only 20% as many anti-Hispanic ethnicity-based hate crimes reported by the UCR as there were anti-black race-based hate crimes, though there were slightly more Hispanics than blacks in the U.S. at the time.

What does the NCVS tell us about 2003-2009 hate crime data? It reports (combining tables 9 and 10) that the total annual victimization rate for race-based hate incidents per 1000 people was 0.33 for non-Hispanic whites and 0.38 for non-Hispanic blacks, and the rate for ethnicity-based hate incidents per 1000 people was 0.58 for Hispanics. The 2000-2003 data reported that the race-based victimization for blacks was 0.35/1000, for whites 0.45/1000, and the ethnicity-based victimization for Hispanics was 0.70/1000. Taking into account the margin of error, and the variation from 2000-2003 to 2003-2009, it seems that on balance the victimization rate for race-based hate crimes is about the same for blacks than for whites, and the rate for Hispanics is probably about 1.5 to 1.75 times that for blacks and whites.

Which estimate is right? For that matter, which is the right estimate of total hate crime incidents — 7000 (UCR), 7000 * 7 (to roughly for agencies that didn’t submit any incident reports), or 195,000 (NCVS)? You be the judge. My tendency is to assume that the NCVS is generally sounder here as it is elsewhere, though there’s no doubt that there are threats to validity in the NCVS as well as the UCR. But even if this is uncertain, just keep in mind the dangers of relying exclusively on UCR-based accounts.

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