This week in our hate crime series, The Voice/Black Voice News examines hate crimes in the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino.
As revealed in Part 1 of this series last week, hate crime rates in California increased two years in a row. Riverside County, however, has thus far managed to defy the state-wide trend. There are, though, other areas of concern identified in the report which impact both counties.
Statistics in Riverside County show a dramatic decrease in hate crimes between 2007 and 2016. In 2007, Riverside County reported a high of 85 total hate crimes, compared to 37 reported in 2016, a decrease of 56 percent. Hate crime statistics in San Bernardino County show an increase from 20 total hate crimes in 2007 to 28 in 2016, an increase of 29 percent.
What defies explanation in these statistics is what accounts for the difference between the two counties, given their similar demographic profiles. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Riverside County has a population of 2,189,641 and San Bernardino County has a population of 2,035,210, yet, until recently, the difference in the number of hate crimes reported was glaring.
For instance, in 2007, San Bernardino County reported 20 hate crimes while Riverside County reported 85, a difference of 77 percent. In 2008, San Bernardino County reported 30 hate crimes and Riverside County reported 77, a 61 percent difference.
The striking disparity in the numbers appeared between 2007 and 2012. The data began to more closely align beginning in 2013, when the hate crimes reported more closely reflected the demographic similarity between the two counties.
The Voice/Black Voice News contacted the California Department of Justice (CDOJ) regarding this disparity and received this response: “The California Department of Justice is mandated by statute to collect data on hate crime from law enforcement agencies and submit an annual Hate Crime in California report to the Legislature.”
“We provide the data in raw form, and statistical charts and graphs for use by the public, academia, and other entities and leave the analysis to the users,” CDOJ explained while providing department resources to “assist local and federal law enforcement agencies.”
Additionally, The Voice/Black Voice News contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which compiles the “statistical reporting based on numbers provided by law enforcement agencies” and has a role in investigating hate crimes if they violate federal statutes, as well as detecting and deterring “further incidents.”
“It’s a voluntary program, so we rely on information received from the city or county,” and any analysis “would be up to law-makers or legislators,” FBI Press Relations Contact, Laura Eimiller, explained. “Do we second guess what we get from departments? No.”
The FBI investigates hate crimes where the suspect acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin, or crimes committed based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender and where the victim was “engaged in a federally protected activity.”
When local authorities were asked about the wide disparity in the number of hate crime incidents reported in previous years between the two inland counties, Lieutenant Sarkis Ohannessian, spokesperson for the San Bernardino Sheriff- Public Affairs Division could not provide an explanation.
Whatever the reason for the glaring difference, it suddenly disappeared in 2013. That year, San Bernardino County reported 44 hate crimes and Riverside County reported 43. In 2014, San Bernardino reported 34 hate crimes and Riverside reported 30. Ohannessian could not provide an explanation regarding what might have changed.
For the record, early in 2013, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors appointed John McMahon to the position of Sheriff following the retirement of Rod Hoops.
Interestingly, data analysis revealed that, for the period 2013 through 2016, in a large number of hate crimes reported, the reporting department failed to identify the race of the suspects. For example, the race of 49 percent of the suspects were listed as “unknown” in San Bernardino County and the same was true for 47 percent of suspects in Riverside County, leading observers to wonder about the quality of reporting. Many of these crimes are sparked by and can be intimately tied to the race of the suspect and/or that of the victim.
the suspect’s race was reported, data showed white suspects accounted for 26 percent of the hate crimes committed in San Bernardino County, and 25 percent in Riverside County. Hispanic suspects were involved 10 percent of the hate crimes committed in San Bernardino, 15 percent in Riverside. African American hate crime suspects were involved in nine percent of the hate crimes in San Bernardino, 12 percent in Riverside. Asian/Pacific Islander, multiple race groups, and Native Hawaiian suspects accounted for the remaining 6 percent of hate crimes in San Bernardino and 1 percent in Riverside.
The data classified hates crimes as either “violent”—a physical crime against an individual—or “property”—where an individual’s property was damaged or defaced.
In 2013, San Bernardino County had 21 violent hate crimes and saw a slight increase to 22 reports in 2014. The numbers decreased to 20 in 2015 and 19 in 2016. Riverside County has experienced a reduction in violent hate crimes in recent years. In 2013, such crimes reached a high of 24. The total reduced to 20 in 2014, then 17 in each of 2015 and 2016. Weapons involved in some of these incidents of violence in both counties included knives, vehicles, and guns, among others.
Regarding property-related hate crimes, San Bernardino County reached a high of 22 in 2013, dipped to 12 in 2014, rose to 18 in 2015 and remained basically steady at 19 in 2016. Such crimes in Riverside County went from a high of 19 in 2013, and were cut nearly in half to 10 in 2014. Then, 11 in 2015, and 10 property-related hate crimes in 2016.
Also worth noting is what appeared to be an historic lack of prosecution of hate crime cases in San Bernardino County. Of the 44 hate crimes reported in San Bernardino County in 2013, only three (6.8 percent) were referred by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to the district attorney. In 2014, only six (17.6 percent) of 34 hate crime cases reported were referred; in 2015, only five (16.1 percent) of 30 cases were referred to the district attorney. When asked about the low number of referrals in San Bernardino, Ohannessian responded, “By the time it is referred to the district attorney's office, they can't prove hate crimes so they drop it from their count.” 2016 saw notable improvement—of the 28 incidents reported, nine (32.1 percent) were referred.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has a different track record. It referred 18 (41.8 percent) of 43 hate crime reports to the district attorney in 2013. In 2014, it referred 14 (46.6 percent) of 30 cases; and in 2015, 18 (64.3 percent) of 28 cases. In 2016, however, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department referred only 7 (18.9 percent) of the 37 incidents reported.
Sadly, when The Voice/Black Voice News reviewed the websites for both the Riverside and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Departments and both District Attorney’s Offices, it found very little reference material or other information for hate crime victims.
In response to the paper’s inquiries, both Sheriff’s Departments promised to revise their websites to include more information on hate crimes for victims.
For additional information on civil and criminal laws related to hate crimes in California visit: http://ag.ca.gov/civilrights/pdf/laws.pdf. For more information about the FBI’s role in hate crimes visit: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/hate-crimes; and for more information on the criminal statutes enforced by the FBI visit: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/federal-civil-rights-statutes.