A visitor carries a sign as State Police lock down Charlottesville, Va., in 2018 in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally.

A visitor carries a sign as State Police lock down Charlottesville, Va., in 2018 in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally. Steve Helber / AP file photo

Watchdog: Better Information-Sharing Could Help Address Spike in College Hate Crimes

The Justice Department must keep its resources updated and raise awareness of them, GAO finds. 

The Justice Department needs to update, centralize and share more information on how college officials and law enforcement can combat the rising hate crimes on campuses, according to a recent report. 

The Government Accountability Office reported on Monday that despite efforts by several offices within the department to identify and address hate crimes, the department needs to improve its information sharing since hate crimes on college campuses have spiked over the last decade. The report attributed the jump to increased reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish crimes. 

“Hate crimes are criminal offenses motivated by the offender’s bias against individuals or groups who share (or are perceived to share) a protected characteristic, which may include race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity,” GAO stated. “According to [the Justice Department], hate crimes are not separate, distinct crimes, but rather traditional offenses motivated by the offender’s bias.” 

Many colleges, campus law enforcement officials and others are not aware of Justice Department resources such as “providing educational activities and technical assistance, convening groups of federal and other stakeholders, facilitating mediation and dialogues, conducting research and providing information on the prevalence of hate crimes,” the report said. These resources also are “scattered across at least five different offices,” according to GAO. 

Additionally, some of Justice’s online information about hate crimes is outdated. For example, a publication on how to combat religious-based hate crimes and bias incidents at colleges is from 2001. Therefore, it “does not reflect the recent trends that stakeholders identified related to hate crimes,” such as prevalence of off-campus perpetrators, options for victims to report crimes online and/or online coordination of crimes, the report found. GAO cited the 2017 Unite the Right Rally on the University of Virginia’s campus in which white supremacists coordinated logistics online and then traveled the nation to join the rally. 

GAO conducted this audit from August 2018 to October 2019 by interviewing agency officials and stakeholders, conducting a literature review, looking at Justice’s practices, and studying data from the Education and Justice departments.

Crimes reported to Education increased from 103 in 2009 to 189 in 2017, while crimes reported to Justice increased from 24 to 59. GAO attributed this difference to Justice potentially underreporting crimes. This more of a problem for Justice because reporting to the department is voluntary for state, campus and other local law enforcement, while reporting to Education is mandatory for colleges participating in federal student aid programs, according to Melissa Emrey-Arras, director of education, workforce and income security at GAO.

“We deeply appreciate the attention GAO has paid to anti-Semitism and other religion-based hate crimes and hate incidents," an Anti-Defamation League spokesperson said. "It is significant that GAO included bias incidents in this report about religious-based hate crimes. We believe it is critical to respond to incidents motivated by bias and hate, even when they do not rise to the level of criminal behavior, because these non-criminal incidents can still deeply affect a campus community."

As a result, the watchdog recommended that the Justice Department update its information online, centralize the resources online so they’re easier to navigate, and share more information with colleges, campus law enforcement and others. The department concurred with these recommendations.

This story has been updated with comment from the Anti-Defamation League