California is underreporting hate crimes to the FBI, state lawmakers and the public. Auditors found problems with hate crime policies at four agencies it reviewed, including the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
The auditors said Thursday that underreporting hate crimes in California is a result of local law enforcement agencies lacking adequate policies and training.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said his department welcomed the audit, and he appreciates the opportunity to work with state Department of Justice.
"We're pleased with the results of the audit which tells me our team is doing an outstanding job serving the community, and we've implemented the suggested recommendations," Christianson said via email Thursday.
The auditors found that the sheriff's departments in Stanislaus and Orange counties do not have a supplemental hate crime report form for first-responding officers. The Orange County department has begun drafting a form based on those used at by other law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
The forms would include information such as victim and suspect statements about what was said that could be crucial in prosecuting hate crime cases.
"Until both law enforcement agencies implement methods to better identify hate crimes, the potential to misidentify hate crimes remains high," auditors said in their report.
The auditors also found that the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, from 2014 through 2016, did not have documentation of offering refresher hate crime training that contains critical procedures for identifying hate crimes. About 49 percent of law enforcement agencies, or 85 of the 174, in California surveyed indicated they also did not offer refresher hate crime training during those two years.
The audit largely blames the state Department of Justice, which oversees the data collection, for not requiring that local agencies do a better job.
Even with the under-counting, reported 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 a disability.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who oversees the department and is running for election in next week’s primary, announced shortly after the audit’s release that he has created a new hate crimes prevention webpage and brochure on identifying and reporting hate crimes, as well as more guidance for local law enforcement agencies.
The auditors found that a “lack of proactive guidance and oversight from DOJ has contributed to the underreporting and misreporting of hate crime information.”
Along with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, the auditors found problems with hate crime policies at the three other agencies they reviewed, including the Los Angeles Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and the San Francisco State University Police Department. The four agencies combined underreported hate crimes by about 14 percent, or a total of 97 hate crimes.
Most of the underreporting was by the LAPD, which objected to some of the findings and said it already has new policies and procedures to comply with auditors’ recommendations.
Of 622 hate crimes identified by the LAPD from 2014-2016, auditors found that 89 were not reported to the state. Another 36 apparent hate crimes were not reported by various university police agencies, auditors found.
Hate crimes also are underreported because nearly a third of the 245 law enforcement agencies surveyed by auditors do nothing to encourage the public to report hate crimes. That adds to a national underreporting problem: Federal authorities estimate that more than half of all hate crimes aren’t reported to police.