LOS ANGELES (CN) – California law enforcement agencies fall short in identifying and reporting hate crimes, according to a state audit released Thursday.
According to the California State Auditor, law enforcement officials at four audited agencies underreported hate crimes by about 14 percent, or a total of 97 hate crimes.
Even with the reporting shortcomings, a status report found that hate crimes in California increased by more than 20 percent from 2014 to 2016, from 758 to 931.
Hate crimes are defined as those targeting victims because of their race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
“Hate crimes are among the most dehumanizing of crimes because the perpetrators view their victims as lacking full human worth,” the report said. “In addition, hate crimes affect the entire groups to which the victims belong.”
Even when hate crimes are reported, auditors found that the justice system struggles to convict offenders.
Prosecution of hate crimes is often “hampered either by a lack of suspects or by the high standard of proof required,” the report said.
This means that prosecutors are successful in convicting hate crime perpetrators “at only about half the rate at which they convict defendants for all felonies in the state,” auditors said.
According to a Department of Justice survey, California prosecutors convicted 790 defendants of hate crimes from 2007 through 2016, compared to 2.4 million for felonies in the same period.
Auditors largely blamed California’s Department of Justice for the state’s shortcomings.
A “lack of proactive guidance and oversight from DOJ has contributed to the underreporting and misreporting of hate crime information,” the report said.
The DOJ requires law enforcement agencies, such as sheriff’s departments and police departments, to submit information on all hate crimes occurring in their jurisdictions on a monthly basis.
The DOJ then sends that information to the FBI.
Following the report’s release, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra – who oversees the state’s DOJ – announced a new website where the public can find information on identifying and reporting hate crimes, as well as protocols for local law enforcement agencies.
“An attack motivated by hate against one of us is an attack on all of us. We must strive to make California a place of tolerance — hate crimes have no place here,” Becerra said in a statement.
Becerra has also published updated protocols for his agency’s Hate Crime Rapid Response Team, which assists local and federal law enforcement authorities in arresting and convicting individuals who commit hate crimes.
According to the audit, the Los Angeles Police Department had the most incidents of underreporting and misreporting.
Of 622 hate crimes identified by the LAPD from 2014-2016, auditors found that 89 were not reported to the state.
But LAPD chief Charlie Beck objected to some of the report’s findings, stating in a letter to state audit director Elaine Howle that the department has already implemented new policies and protocols to comply with recommendations.
Auditors countered that the LAPD created checklists for detectives to use when investigating hate crimes but does not require that detectives complete this checklist after each incident.
The number of hate crimes reported to Los Angeles law enforcement in 2017 rose to 254, the highest number since 2008.
Only New York had more reported hate crimes last year.
Los Angeles hate crimes last year most frequently targeted residents who are gay, black, Latino, Jewish or transgender, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
Gay residents and black residents were the most targeted with 64 and 55 incidents of reported hate crimes, respectively, the report said.
The rise in reported hate crimes is the fourth consecutive increase and part of a national spike.
Hate crimes in the country’s ten largest cities rose 12.5 percent in 2017, which followed a 5 percent increase in 2016.
In addition to the Los Angeles Police Department, the audit also examined the San Francisco State University Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and the Stanislaus County Sheriff.