Some Police Mislabel ‘Anti-Heterosexual’ Incidents

The FBI has a category of crime called anti-heterosexual hate crime. The FBI counted 142 of them over seven years reported by local police departments, but on closer examination, none of them seem to have been provoked by anti-heterosexual bias.

When a gay man in Columbus, Oh., was threatened by a man using a homophobic slur, police acknowledged his concern that the incident may have been motivated by bias, but they got a key detail wrong in their incident report: They mistakenly marked it as a case of anti-heterosexual harassment, reports ProPublica. Since 2010, Columbus police have reported six incidents that list bias against heterosexuals as the purported motivation. That’s more than any other local law enforcement agency in the nation reported during that period. Columbus Police Department Sgt. Dean Worthington acknowledges it’s likely that the officers who filed the reports marked the wrong box.

Those reports made their way from Columbus to the FBI, where they were compiled with thousands of others into the Uniform Crime Report. Every year a small number of anti-heterosexual hate crime reports end up in the UCR. From 2010 to 2016, the FBI reported that local law enforcement agencies noted a total of 142 of them. ProPublica reviewed dozens of these reports, and found few, if any, actual hate crimes targeting people for being heterosexual. ProPublica sent Freedom of Information Act requests to every law enforcement agency that reported a heterosexual bias crime in 2016, and was able to locate records for 58 cases. None described hate crimes spurred by anti-heterosexual bias. As with the case in Columbus, about half were actually anti-gay or anti-bisexual crimes that were miscategorized. Seven cases appeared to reflect other types of bias, with victims targeted because they were Jewish or black or women. Some 18 cases don’t seem to have been hate crimes at all. The findings show that many local law enforcement agencies do a poor job tracking hate crimes. It’s a problem that can leave policy makers blind when grappling with the problem of hate crimes and bias incidents.