New York State failed for nearly a decade to compile and report reliable data on hate crime incidents, arrests and prosecutions, as required by the state's own hate crimes law enacted in 2000.
The Division of Criminal Justice Services, the agency responsible for gathering the information in an annual report, said last week that reports were done in 2001 and 2002, and not again until 2009. A division spokesman said when it began doing the work to produce a report for 2008, officials found flaws in the data provided by local law enforcement agencies to the state.
"It became apparent that the coding, statewide, was askew and that in many instances crimes were either misidentified as hate crimes or not identified as hate crimes when they should have been," the division's public information director, John Caher, said in an e-mail. As a result of the examination, the two earlier reports were scrapped, he said.
Working with police
Caher said the agency has since been working with local police to get more accurate hate crime reporting.
Sound hate crime data are needed, civil rights advocates said, to measure how vigorously police and prosecutors are enforcing the law. And the state's own noncompliance raises doubts, they said, about how serious public officials have been in confronting hate crime.
News of the failure to produce the annual reports comes to light a week after a Suffolk County jury found a Long Island teen guilty of manslaughter as a hate crime in the death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant. Federal investigators are probing charges of discriminatory policing in Suffolk in response to complaints involving Latino victims.
"The requirement to report is about having some level of accountability," said Christina Iturralde, an associate counsel for New York City-based Latino Justice. "If they are not keeping these statistics, obviously there's the opportunity not to be 100 percent truthful about what's happening."
New York's hate crime law, enacted in 2000 with the help of Gov. George Pataki and the late Cardinal John O'Connor, created tougher penalties in cases where crime victims are selected based on race, religion, gender or other factors.
The law requires the state to "collect and analyze statistical and all other information and data" on reported hate crime incidents, arrests and prosecutions, including whether convictions or acquittals result. The information, provided by police and the courts system, is to be compiled in an annual report and submitted to the Legislature and governor.
Caher said he did not know why the state had not issued reports each year, but the limited number of researchers may have played a role. Chauncey Parker, DCJS commissioner from 2002 until 2007 and now a federal drug enforcement official, did not return calls seeking comment.
"I imagine there was far more focus on fighting crime than worrying about reporting technicalities," Caher said in an e-mail. "It wouldn't surprise me if on many occasions someone got started on a report and then got pulled in another direction."
Some 'serious problems'
Caher said that in 2009 the state worker who maintains hate crime data noticed "serious problems" when the division began to compile the required annual report for 2008.
According to Caher, then DCJS Commissioner Denise O'Donnell ordered a review. Attempts to reach O'Donnell, who in February resigned from Gov. David A. Paterson's administration, were not successful.
"It was a huge undertaking," Caher said in an e-mail of the review, "and one we did with no prodding from anyone."
The work revealed issues with the records management systems used by local police departments. When selecting an arrest charge from a data entry screen, the 'H', or hate crime version, can be mistakenly chosen, or missed when it is appropriate, he said.
Because of the inaccuracies, the agency pulled the reports done in 2001 and 2002 from its website, Caher said.
The data review slashed the number of actual hate crime arrests statewide in 2008 from 1,343 to 153.
Two of the arrests mistakenly tagged as hate crimes were in Nassau, and six in Suffolk. The state also found that four incidents in Nassau and five in Suffolk that had been properly identified as hate crimes were not reported.
Jurisdictions across the country have no uniform definitions of what constitutes a hate crime. That impediment - including differences between Nassau and Suffolk - has complicated efforts to accurately track hate crimes.
Jack McDevitt, associate dean at Northeastern University's College of Criminal Justice, has spent decades in the field of hate crimes research.
McDevitt said many states passed hate crime laws in the 1990s that, like New York's, had strong reporting provisions. Over time, he said, most states began to ignore those requirements, both because collecting the data is difficult and because the sense of urgency over hate crimes has waned.
"As a society, we need to know that these crimes are being recognized by law enforcement, that they are resulting in arrests, and that they are resulting in punishment," McDevitt said.
Caher said the problems have been corrected and his agency, the court system and police are well coordinated to track hate crimes. A sound report, he said, was produced for 2008 and released last August. A report for 2009 will be released this year, he said.
After requests, DCJS was able to provide a list of hate crime convictions by county from 2000 until 2009. It indicates that convictions statewide jumped from 78 in 2000 to 186 in 2001. Since then, convictions have declined steadily, to 72 last year.
The division did not respond to requests on arrests and prosecution attempts for the same period.