FBI: Reported Hate Crimes Up in 2006

Reported hate crimes jumped significantly last year as prosecutions declined.

Nov. 19, 2007— -- After hitting a decade-low in 2005, the number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies last year jumped nearly 8 percent, FBI statistics show.

The 7.7 percent increase means hate crime offenses reported in 2006 rose to 9,080, compared with 8,380 incidents the previous year. The number of incidents reported in 2005 was the lowest reported in a decade, according to the FBI.

One potential reason for last year's increase could be that almost 200 additional law enforcement agencies from around the country reported statistics for the year.

According to the FBI, 51.8 percent of the reported hate crimes were motivated by a racial bias, almost 20 percent showed a religious bias, 15.5 percent of the crimes involved a sexual orientation bias and 12 percent demonstrated bias based on ethnicity or national origin.

Previous Justice Department analyses indicated the number of hate crime offenses are underreported to police. A 2005 victimization study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, analyzing data from July 2000 to December 2003, found "an average of 191,000 hate crime incidents involving one or more victims occurred annually."

That report, based on interviews with more than 77,000 people annually and the FBI's figures, determined that only 44 percent of hate crimes were reported to police.

"The nearly 8 percent rise in the number of hate crimes is obviously of concern, but the truth is that the FBI's data severely undercount the number of hate crimes each year," Heidi Beirich, director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project told ABC News.

The reported increase comes months after a recent spate of noose incidents around the United States, which occurred following the prosecution and controversy surrounding the Jena Six. In that case, six black teenagers were charged in the beating of a white student in Jena, La.

Focus on the Jena Six intensified after three white students from Jena High School were not prosecuted for hanging a noose from a tree on the high school grounds. But after beating a white student, who was not responsible for the noose hanging, the local prosecutor charged the six black youths with attempted murder. Those charges were later reduced to aggravated assault.

The recent rise in noose incidents and renewed focus on the Jena Six case prompted a protest outside of the Justice Department last Friday by an estimated 5,000 protestors.

In a statement Monday, Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, which organized the protest, said, "The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes and why many thousands of citizens marched Friday, Nov. 16 in front of the U.S. Justice Department. What is not reported, however, is the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes."

Data compiled by the Justice Department show a decline in overall prosecutions, but officials insist the decline is based on a related drop in referrals sent to the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division, which handles federal hate crime prosecutions. In 1997, 799 cases were referred for federal prosecution, compared with 420 in 2006.