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Understanding and Reducing Hate Crimes in New York City

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Understanding and Reducing Hate Crimes in New York City

March 23, 2022
Policing & Public SafetyAll

Executive Summary

Hate crime is a rising, and long-standing, concern in New York City. The nation’s largest city and one of its most diverse, New York is home to hundreds of bias offenses every year. The number of these offenses has declined far less precipitously over the past 30 years than other types of crime.

This report details the scale and contours of offenses motivated by racial, ethnic, and religious bias in NYC, including data on trends over time, who is victimized and where and how, and on the types of offenders. It also discusses the city’s infrastructure for dealing with these offenses and the justifications for combating hate crime as hate crime (as opposed to crime per se).

Last, this paper proposes a “focused deterrence” approach for dramatically reducing hate crimes in the city. Such an approach would entail:

  • A zero-tolerance strategy for hate crimes, facilitated by a surge in NYPD resources
  • An all-of-government messaging campaign in tandem with the surge
  • A specific focus on identifying and treating serious mental illness
  • More data transparency from across the criminal justice system

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Introduction

Over the past three years, New York City has been battered by a series of high-profile hate crimes. A wave of violence against Jewish residents in 2019 gave way to brutal assaults on Asian residents during the coronavirus lockdown. Other types of crimes motivated by bias surged again in 2021, leaving communities across the city on edge and afraid to walk the streets.[1]

This surge—and the public’s anxiety about it—has already prompted a concerted response. In 2019, then-mayor Bill de Blasio established the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) within his administration and expanded NYPD hate crime enforcement at several junctures. Mayor Eric Adams promised a “zero tolerance” policy for hate crimes during his campaign and has continued to highlight bias offenses since taking office.[2] Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg similarly made combating hate crimes one of his campaign focuses and has expanded his office’s hate crimes unit.[3]

Despite these efforts, the number of hate crimes today is similar to the early 1990s, while the number of other types of crimes has declined precipitously. This report explores the scale and contours of historical and current hate crime offending, using data to detail when, where, and against whom hate crimes are committed. It also proposes a “focused deterrence” approach to combating hate crimes, calling for an all-of-government campaign to truly implement Mayor Adams’s “zero tolerance” promise. Success in reducing the number of these offenses can serve as an exemplar to other cities struggling with the problem.

Diversity and Its Discontents

Eight million strong and growing, New York is the nation’s largest city and among its most diverse.[4] As of the 2020 census, the city was roughly evenly divided between white (32%), Hispanic (29%), and black (24%) residents, with Asians making up another 14%.[5] Thanks partly to growth in the Asian and Hispanic populations, this diversity has increased over the past three decades.[6]

The variety of perspectives and ideas that these groups contribute are a source of New York’s economic and social dynamism. But, as is true elsewhere, such diversity can also lead to community tension and promote within-group isolation, the erosion of social trust, and offenses motivated by bias or hatred.[7] As a result, hate crime has been, and remains, a pressing problem.

Every year, New Yorkers report hundreds of hate crimes. While the total number of offenses in recent decades has fallen relative to the peaks of the 1990s, there have been notable increases in high-profile, hate-motivated violence in the past three years, including brutal assaults on Asian, Jewish, and black residents in broad daylight (Figure 1).[8] At the end of 2021, hate crime offenses were on par with levels not seen since the 1990s.

Among the roughly 2,000 jurisdictions that reported hate crimes to the FBI in 2020, NYC (270 incidents) was second only to Los Angeles (368) for most offenses reported.[9] Of course, that fact is almost certainly driven by Gotham’s size and the thoroughness of its reporting, particularly compared with the many jurisdictions that do not tally hate crimes.

Interjurisdiction comparison of hate crime data is discouraged, due to dramatic variation in reporting by citizens and police departments.[10] Still, comparing New York with the nine next-largest cities in the U.S.—likely to have more reliable data—presents a picture of how New York stacks up relative to similar jurisdictions (Figure 2).

New York has reported more hate crimes than any of the other 10 largest cities in 22 out of the 30 years covered in the FBI’s data (Los Angeles takes the top spot in the other eight). On a per-capita basis, NYC is routinely second or third, after Los Angeles and Phoenix, save for 2020. In other words, NYC outpaces many of its peers in hate crimes relative to the population.

The Contours of Hate Crime in NYC

Offenses motivated by bias are clearly a problem, but what does the problem consist of? What groups are the principal victims? Where are the crimes committed? What do we know about the offenders? This section presents the contours of NYC’s hate crimes and discusses the city’s current infrastructure for responding to hate crimes.

• Target Groups

Table 1 draws data primarily from complaints of hate crimes reported to NYPD and, in turn, by NYPD reported to the FBI. Because they offer different information, in some cases I use the 1991–2020 data published by the FBI; in others, I use the 2019–21 data published by NYPD.[11]

From 1991 to 2020, the leading target of hate crime has invariably been Jewish New Yorkers. Among the top 10 groups targeted—collectively making up 96% of incidents reported to the FBI—Jews account for at least a third of the victims of offenses in all years, more than 50% in five of those years, and 60% of reported offenses in 2019. While anti-Semitic offenses have declined slightly from the 1990s, spikes in 2021, 2019, and 2012 suggest that conditions still make high levels of anti-Semitic offending possible.

Several factors likely contribute to the overrepresentation of Jews among hate crime victims. One is that NYC is one of the most Jewish jurisdictions in the United States. Jews account for about 7% of the city’s population, compared with roughly 2% nationwide.[12] However, Jews account for nearly half of all hate-crime victims reported since 2019, suggesting that population is not the only explanation. Anti-Semitic hate crimes may also be easier to identify because they may entail targeting visibly Jewish people or places (observant Jews in characteristic dress; or synagogues) or using known anti-Semitic symbols (the swastika; or anti-Semitic slurs). It may be harder to discern if persons are attacked because they are Asian or gay than if they are wearing the accoutrement of religious Jewish life. For similar reasons, Jews may be easier to target, and therefore a more frequent target of offenders motivated by general, rather than specific, animus.

Apart from Jews, the second and third most-targeted groups over the past three decades are black and gay (i.e., male homosexual) New Yorkers. Rates of victimization of black New Yorkers have declined since the 1990s, although they remain elevated; rates of victimization of gay men tend to rise and fall and are roughly constant with the 1990s. In the past two years, Asian New Yorkers have also become major targets of hate crimes, mirroring trends nationwide.[13]

There have been several distinct spikes in hate crimes in the city in the past three years (Figure 3). Jewish New Yorkers experienced a surge in 2019, with a number of violent incidents targeting Orthodox Jews, culminating in two brutal attacks on Jews in the greater New York metropolitan area: a mass shooting at a kosher grocery in Jersey City, New Jersey; and a mass stabbing at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York. The violence appears to have abated through 2020 but resurged as the city reopened in 2021—suggesting that Covid-control measures may have suppressed a more general upswing.[14] New York also experienced two spikes in anti-Asian bias crime, consonant with the trend in other cities. While the first spike was likely caused by anti-Asian sentiment fomented by the Covid-19 crisis, it remains unclear as to what caused the second resurgence.[15]

• Where Are the Crimes Committed?

As with other offenses, hate crimes are not evenly distributed across the five boroughs, or even NYPD precincts (Table 2). During 2019–21, roughly 150 hate crimes were reported annually in Brooklyn and Manhattan, compared with half as many in Queens, a quarter as many in the Bronx, and an eighth as many on Staten Island. Some of this disparity is due to population—there are more than five times as many people in Brooklyn as on Staten Island. But even controlling for population, Brooklyn experiences more than twice as many hate crimes per capita as the Bronx, while Manhattan experiences nearly four times as many.

The concentration of hate crimes shifts between and within boroughs and across years (Figure 4). In 2019, hard-hit precincts were mostly concentrated in Brooklyn, including the 71st (southern Crown Heights), 66th (Borough Park), and 94th (Greenpoint). The Brooklyn concentration persisted in 2020, with problem precincts including the 90th (Williamsburg) and 70th (southern Prospect Park), as well as the 10th (Chelsea/ Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards). In 2021, hate crime was less common in Brooklyn and more in Manhattan and the Bronx: hot spots included the 14th (Midtown), 18th (Midtown), and 50th (Riverdale/Spuyten Duyvil).

At root, these geographic variations are likely a function of shifting patterns in who is victimized. The wave of violence against Jewish New Yorkers in 2019, for example, explains the surges in Brooklyn precincts where large populations of Orthodox Jews live. Rising hate crime in Manhattan in 2020 and 2021, meanwhile, reflects increased targeting of both Jews and Asians—the latter make up 13% of the borough.[16]

At the same time, the shifting patterns of hate crime help situate bias offenses within the broader context of crime. As George Mason University researchers David Weisburd and Taryn Zastrow show in a recent Manhattan Institute report, general crime in NYC is a highly concentrated phenomenon, with that concentration persisting over time. A little more than 1% of blocks account for 25% of crime in the city, in their analysis, and the identity of those blocks persists between 2010 and 2020.[17] It is notable, then, that hate crimes are fairly widely dispersed at the precinct level and seem to move over time. This difference may dissolve at the block level—a reason that the city should consider releasing summary or incident-level data on block-level hate crime offending (more on this below).

• The Typology of Offenses Motivated by Bias

New York State laws punish hate crimes through a penalty enhancement for other crimes and through the criminalization of specific activities committed because of a bias motivation (e.g., harassment can qualify as “aggravated” if it is motivated by bias). Many offenses can be prosecuted as hate crimes, so long as the police and prosecutors can establish that they were at least partly motivated by “a belief or perception about certain protected characteristics”—namely, “race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.”[18]

Of the 1,296 hate crimes reported by NYPD since 2019, roughly half (616) have been felonies, and half (665) have been misdemeanors; 14 are violations (i.e., conduct that can result in minor punishment but no criminal record), and one is reported as an “investigation” at the time of this writing. Among the felonies, more than half were instances of first-degree aggravated harassment, a felony that includes the display of certain hate symbols such as a swastika, burning cross, or noose.[19] Another quarter were instances of minor assault. Similarly, the large majority of misdemeanor offenses were for second-degree aggravated harassment, assault in the third degree, and graffiti and other criminal mischief. Many hate crimes, in other words, are not violent offenses but instead entail the display of hate symbols or the making of hate-related graffiti. A significant minority, however, do involve physical assault, and NYPD has reported a number of major hate crimes in the past two and a half years, including one murder, one manslaughter, one rape, and 37 robberies.

The type of offense varies significantly relative to what group is being targeted, as is apparent from looking at the five most-targeted groups in the past three years (Table 3). The majority of hate crimes against Jewish and black New Yorkers fall under the statutes covering either harassment or criminal mischief, offenses that include not just harassing others in public but also vandalism and the destruction of property, inclusive of the display of hate symbols.[20] In particular, many offenses against Jews are instances of the aforementioned first-degree aggravated harassment, meaning that they likely include swastika graffiti and damage to synagogues. The majority of offenses against blacks are cases of criminal mischief in the fourth degree—possibly, graffiti of racial slurs like the “n”-word. The majority of bias crimes against gays, whites, and Asians, by contrast, are more physical: nearly half the crimes against Asian or gay (male) victims, and more than 60% against white victims, are assaults of some sort.

These disparities may be a product of any number of underlying factors. Perhaps they reflect differences in the proclivities of offenders—graffiti artists with a desire to offend in general, versus a bigoted individual lashing out at an Asian or gay or white person. Or perhaps anti- Semitic and antiblack vandalism is easier to recognize because it traffics in better-known symbols (swastikas, nooses, widely known slurs). Or perhaps the more frequently a group is targeted, the less severe the average victimization is because the added marginal offender is a less serious or more casual one.

• A Profile of Offenders, by Group

As mentioned above, NYC’s diversity can lead to potentially grating interactions between individuals of different racial, ethnic, religious, and other groups, which can sometimes reach the point of a hate crime. Popular media coverage tends to focus on specific kinds of offenses, but a closer look at the data shows that intergroup victimization is more complicated.

Limited information is available about hate crime offenders, simply because many hate crimes do not result in arrest (see next section). But the data reported by NYPD to the FBI provide information on offender race among those offenses cleared by arrest (although not Hispanic ethnicity). NYPD also publishes summary information on hate crime arrests that includes data about race and sex. As far as the latter goes, hate crime offenders are overwhelmingly male, tracking the pattern of men being more likely to commit crimes in general.[21]

Table 4 shows the number of offenses committed by offenders of different races (columns) against a selection of victims (rows) from 2010 to 2020.[22] Because NYPD did not report Hispanic ethnicity to the FBI and because race is unknown or unreported in many instances, these data are of somewhat limited utility. Nonetheless, one can say a few things.

Across all offenses in which the offender race is known, black New Yorkers account for 43% of offenders and white New Yorkers for 32%, with an unknown additional number of each counted as “groups” in multi-offender incidents. By comparison, whites are 43% of the city’s residents; blacks are 24%.[23] Within victimizations where the offender’s race is known, blacks are most likely to be targeted by whites, while gays and Jews are most likely to be targeted by blacks. These numbers, again, have to be understood as only partially accurate, given how many incidents lack identifying information. Nonetheless, they confirm the view that hate crimes are committed by New Yorkers of different racial groups, not just by one group.

New York City’s Current Response

The infrastructure for responding to bias-related crime has grown slowly but steadily over the past 40 years. New York State’s earliest hate crime laws were arguably those implemented in the 1920s to permit the banning of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, although these laws were later found unconstitutional. In 1982, the state modified its aggravated harassment statute to explicitly qualify as aggravated any harassment based on the victim’s membership in a protected class.[24] This framework was dramatically expanded by the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, which, for the first time, specified a hate crime enhancement for other offenses. This law was one of the broadest state-level hate crime statutes. A second law followed in 2006, making cross burning and certain graffiti a felony.[25]

In 1980, NYPD established the Bias Incident Investigation Unit. In 1997, the unit was given full authority over bias incidents, with its head reporting directly to the chief of detectives, who then reports to the police commissioner. In 2000, the unit was converted to the Hate Crimes Task Force as part of a Giuliani-administration push to combat hate crime.[26] The task force has been lauded for its work with at-risk communities and nongovernmental organizations, which, one analyst argues, has contributed to higher-than-average clearance rates.[27] In 2021, NYPD established a special civilian panel to which it will refer hard-to-categorize potential hate offenses, seeking input from representatives of affected communities.[28]

All five of the district attorneys’ offices covering the five boroughs maintain dedicated hate crime bureaus or units.[29] The Manhattan unit was set up in 2010, the Brooklyn office in 2018, and the Queens and Staten Island offices in 2020.[30] Each one is staffed with attorneys specifically responsible for prosecuting hate crimes referred by NYPD. According to a media representative, the Brooklyn Hate Crimes Bureau “accepts all arrests that are made by the police department” and was, as of October 2021, prosecuting 60 distinct cases. A representative for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office indicated that they had prosecuted 44 cases in 2018, 54 in 2019, 40 in 2020, and 74 in 2021. The Brooklyn unit has seven “senior ADAs” (assistant district attorneys) while the Manhattan unit has two assigned ADAs, as well as a “full-time investigative analyst.”[31]

Civilian leaders have increasingly focused on hate crimes, particularly in response to the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in 2019. In September of that year, Mayor de Blasio launched OPHC within the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Since then, this office has developed educational materials, conducted community outreach, and coordinated hate crime response in the city.[32]

While this infrastructure is extensive, its efficacy remains unclear. Since 2019, NYPD has cleared roughly one-third of hate crimes reported to it, including just over one in five anti-Semitic incidents. While the DAs’ offices have made strides in data transparency in general, they do not publish information about hate crime prosecutions in particular—a major lacuna. Court case records, however, suggest that they convict on hate crime charges in just 15% of cases, including just 1% of cases in the Bronx.[33]

In other words, NYC has the infrastructure to combat its hate crime problem. But it is unclear to the public how well this infrastructure is being used, and, as discussed below, the city could almost certainly be deploying it more aggressively.

Why Hate Crimes Matter

To some readers, the idea of substantially expanding hate crime enforcement may seem odd, or even alarming. We have not always prosecuted or even recognized as a discrete legal category “hate crimes”; rather, they are a recent innovation, one that remains contested in the public sphere.[34] Some conservatives are wary of the idea of punishing prejudicial motivations, which they see as a form of criminalizing thought. They are also skeptical of the scale and severity of the problem, pointing to “hate crime hoaxes” such as the recent fake attack on actor Jussie Smollett.[35] Meanwhile, some on the left argue that punishing hate crime enables a harmful paradigm of punishment more generally.[36] It may be better to treat hate by changing minds, this reasoning goes, rather than punishing crimes. Last, some argue that hate crimes are relatively rare—several orders of magnitude less common than many other, more frequently violent, offenses—and therefore a questionable use of limited police resources.

For conservative critics, it is important to underscore that hate crime enforcement entails the targeting of conduct, not thought. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to hold heinous ideas and to express them peacefully. This is an extension of the insight that a liberal (in the classical sense) polity requires the free exchange of ideas, no matter how repugnant. But, as the Supreme Court has found, those protections do not extend to otherwise criminal or harmful behavior motivated by bias.[37] Hateful thoughts merit protection; hateful acts do not.

That being said, it is worth asking how we justify hate crime prosecutions. In its first annual report, OPHC identified four reasons that combating hate crimes “matters”: Hate crimes do more harm to their victims than the same offenses done without bias motive; hate crimes incite fear in (and therefore indirectly victimize) other members of the targeted group; hate crimes are more likely to provoke retaliation than non-bias offenses; and hate crimes “undermine the democratic principles and tenets of diversity and inclusion that are the foundation both of New York City and the United States.”[38] A fifth justification comes from a 2005 interview in which then–Hate Crimes Task Force chief Michael Osgood argued that hate crime enforcement serves as a “broken windows” tool that deters a “breakdown in civil disorder.”[39]

Some of these justifications are instrumental, i.e., they suggest that the reason to combat hate crimes is that it serves some other end. If hate crimes are more likely to provoke retaliation (an empirically uncertain proposition but plausible insofar as they inflame intergroup tensions), then combating them more aggressively reduces overall crime. More generally, if hate crimes erode the network of moral norms that make public safety and civic life possible, then combating them is a way to reinforce that network, which then reduces crimes and other social harms down the road.

Other justifications are intrinsic: they suggest that crimes motivated by racial or ethnic biases should be prosecuted as hate crimes because there is something about the “bias motivation” component of the offense that merits specific attention. If being attacked because one is a member of a particular group is more harmful than simply being attacked, then a more serious punishment is proportional to the crime. Similarly, if being attacked because one is a member of a particular group induces fear in that group, then the harm of that induced fear can be weighed in the calculus of punishment.

A third view—implicit in both the claim by OPHC that such crimes undermine democracy, diversity, and inclusion and the Hate Crimes Task Force’s idea that they are a threat to the “civil order”—is that hate crimes should be prosecuted because they are an offense against public decency. Norms of respect regardless of difference are a precondition of the functioning of a polity like New York City. Hate crime enforcement establishes certain behavior as beyond the bounds of acceptable and therefore safeguards civic life. In one sense, this view is instrumental: prosecute hate crimes because doing so preserves civic peace; in another sense, it is intrinsic: prosecute hate crimes because their commission offends public decency more so than other crimes.

This view highlights the error in arguing that bias incidents should be redressed outside the criminal justice system. A basic function of the law is to respond to public wrongs and to create consequences for them; putting hate crimes entirely outside the domain of the criminal justice system discounts the moral harm that they do, to the detriment of the community. Further, it provides additional justification for paying specific attention to hate crimes, over and above the more numerous “regular” crimes. The former entails a harm peculiar to themselves, one meriting specific attention.

Taking Zero Tolerance Seriously

NYC’s newly elected leadership has pledged to aggressively combat hate crime. This is likely a response to recent surges, but the city’s long-standing problem with these bias-motivated offenses merits serious attention regardless. What follows are some ideas for how to tackle the challenge. The overall strategy is simple. Make a large, public, and credible commitment to zero tolerance, follow through on it, and ensure that the public knows that you are following through by improving data reporting.

• Hate Crimes and Focused Deterrence

As far as strategy goes, there is an analogy to a major source of public nuisance and indecency from NYC’s past. This was the infamous “squeegee men” of the 1990s: individuals who would approach stopped cars, wipe their windshields, and then demand to be paid, with an implicit threat of damage to the car if they were not. Although the problem was relatively minor, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was committed to solving it. He announced a zero-tolerance policy whereby NYPD officers arrested any and all squeegee men on-site and took them through the full booking process, rather than giving them a summons to appear, as had been the previous practice. Kelly’s successor, William Bratton, continued the policy.

“Instead of merely starting to make the arrests and wait for the squeegee men to notice, Kelly and Bratton made a big public fuss about the program,” the late criminologist Mark Kleiman wrote.[40] The results were swift and decisive: unwilling to deal with the increased hassle, the squeegee men retreated. NYPD has since maintained its zero-tolerance policy with almost no effect.

The city’s approach, which Kleiman called “dynamic concentration,” is today called “focused deterrence” or “problem-oriented policing.”[41] The Kelly/Bratton anti-squeegee crusade had many hallmarks of a successful focused deterrence strategy. It was focused: a “somewhat resourceintensive burst of enforcement,” as Kleiman put it, was followed by a dramatic decrease in the undesired activity, making subsequent policing of the problem easy. It relied on advertising: Kelly and Bratton clearly and publicly communicated the change of policy, letting potential offenders know that they would be punished. Andit avoided idle threats: cops took offenders through the full criminal justice process, rather than relying on them to show up for court later, increasing both the severity and certainty of their punishment.

This is a basic model for running an effective zero-tolerance campaign: a focused burst of resources dedicated to a problem; clear, public communication; and swift, certain, and fair punishment. NYC’s hate crime problem is, of course, not perfectly analogous to its squeegee-man plague. But a similar model is likely to reduce the incidence of hate crime. This is particularly so because, as with the squeegee men, there are relatively few hate crime offenders; deterring just a handful ought to discourage enough others to have a large overall impact.

• Make a Commitment

The first step toward effectively deterring hate crimes under the Kleiman model is a prominent public announcement of a zero-tolerance policy. Mayor Adams has already made such a commitment obliquely; but to be an effective message, an all-of-government approach is needed. This means announcing the policy at a press conference with the city council leadership, the city’s newly elected district attorneys, and Keechant Sewell, the new police commissioner. This should be followed by a publicity campaign on billboards, subways and buses, and social media, containing the message that hate crimes are illegal and carry serious penalties and that offenders will be identified, caught, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

This strategy is differentiated partly because it does not target “hate” per se but specific crimes motivated by hate. This is distinct from approaches that focus on education, such as the OPHC programs to educate against bias in schools.[42] Trying to change hearts and minds at scale is, quite simply, an inefficient way to reduce the actual number of hate crimes. It is far better to communicate to the small number of actual hate crime offenders that if they break the law, they will be punished.

• Enforcement

After a public commitment to zero tolerance, the NYC administration would need to make the threat credible. Continued messaging is an important part of this process. By telling the public that hate crime offenders are being apprehended and punished, the administration can make clear that zero tolerance is for real, and not just empty words. But messaging alone is just a piece of the puzzle: what matters is deploying uniformed officers, specifically tasked with deterring hate crimes, to areas with the greatest risk of experiencing such offenses. The city has taken such a focused approach in the past, e.g., surging NYPD officers to Brooklyn neighborhoods after the spike in anti-Semitic crime in 2019, and creating a special Asian hate crimes task force after the spike in offenses in 2020.[43] To be sure, taking such a “hot spots” approach proactively may be harder, as the concentration of hate crimes tends to shift over time, as noted above. One solution to this problem is to keep a constant level of NYPD presence in areas most likely to see hate crime offenses—Orthodox Jewish or Asian neighborhoods, bars frequented by gay men, areas where antiblack graffiti is common—while dynamically shifting resources as new data come in.

When a hate crime offender is apprehended, the district attorneys’ offices should prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. All the offices have dedicated divisions or bureaus focused on hate crimes, but they have to be adequately staffed to handle the caseloads. In addition, prosecutions should be publicized—through data reporting, in the press, and on social media—to send a clear message that offenders are being apprehended and facing consequences.

In addition to messaging about hate crime enforcement, the administration should continue encouraging New Yorkers to report hate crimes. At present, dedicated hotlines for this purpose are operated by the Hate Crimes Task Force, the Manhattan and Brooklyn DA offices, and OPHC. These are best consolidated to a single hotline with a single, three- to five-digit number. A separate messaging campaign would clearly define to the public what a hate crime is under New York law and encourage them to contact that number if they witness an offense.

Given the number of bias crime offenses associated with graffiti, the new administration should redouble support for the Graffiti Free NYC program. The program was cut by the de Blasio administration as a cost-reduction measure in 2020.[44] It returned in 2021 but can still clean only about 100 addresses a week, compared with more than 4,000 vandalized addresses on its to-do list.[45] Dedicated resources for removing slurs and other hate-symbol graffiti help control the public expression of hate, serving as a form of “broken windows” enforcement of the sort supported by Osgood, former chief of the Hate Crimes Task Force.

• Focus on Mental Illness

During 2019’s wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes, roughly a third of the offenses were committed by people “with histories of psychiatric problems,” according to a former director of intelligence analysis at NYPD.[46] The head of NYPD’s anti-Asian bias crime task force has similarly told reporters that mental illness was “a common factor among the suspects arrested in recent high-profile attacks on Asians in the city.”[47] Although many hate crime incidents are nonviolent, the most visible[48] ones committed by mentally ill New Yorkers tend to be violent, making mental illness a particularly important factor in hate crimes and their prevention.

Some commentators have sought to downplay the role of mental illness in hate crimes, arguing that “hate is not a symptom of mental illness” and that hate should always be understood as an ideological and therefore rational phenomenon.[49] From the perspective of public order, these contentions are largely irrelevant. If mentally ill offenders account for some significant proportion of hate crimes, a special focus on addressing those individuals’ mental health needs and deterring their antisocial behavior will necessarily reduce hate crime.

In point of fact, policymakers should see the city’s mental health infrastructure as a key component of an effective anti–hate crime strategy.[50] That means incorporating the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene into interagency cooperation structures. It also means ensuring that the city’s mental health courts—diversionary courts that place mentally ill offenders into court-supervised, community-based treatment rather than incarceration[51]—have adequate resources to support hate crime offenders, including violent ones.

But the management of the severely, potentially violent, mentally ill can and should go further. While mental health courts are a valuable resource for mentally ill people in the criminal justice system, diversion from a regular court to a mental health court is voluntary.[52] In addition, some of these courts (such as in Manhattan) do not admit violent offenders.[53] The mental health court system may therefore not serve the needs of hate crime offenders who do not want treatment or are ineligible by virtue of the severity of their crimes, suggesting the urgent need for treatment.

A higher priority should be given to treatment of the severely mentally ill generally, both after they commit a crime (including a hate crime) and beforehand, as a deterrent measure. This means reversing the decline in available inpatient psychiatric beds, which will ensure the capacity to commit offenders, potential and actual, to inpatient treatment.[54] It also means following through on Mayor Adams’s commitment to using Kendra’s Law to compel seriously mentally ill New Yorkers into outpatient treatment.[55] City leaders can both prevent crimes before they happen and meet goals of reducing the use of incarceration to manage the mentally ill population.

• Data Reporting

Successful follow-through on a zero-tolerance strategy for bias crimes entails releasing more information to the public and the media. NYPD is already far better at reporting hate crimes than the police departments of other cities—it releases incident-level data and summary statistics every quarter. Still, there is room for improvement, at least by comparison with the even higher-quality data that NYPD releases on other types of crime. Within the constraints of the reporting apparatus and any privacy concerns, the department should strive for daily releases of bias crime data, as it does with other offense data.

The city’s DA offices have begun to make strides in better reporting and data transparency. But even the Manhattan DA’s office, which operates a “data dashboard,” does not break out information on the prosecution of bias crimes.[56] There is no reason, save the demands of money and time, that all the boroughs’ DA offices cannot at least report this information on a monthly or quarterly basis.

In the service of reducing redundancy, and of not overtaxing resource-constrained law-enforcement offices, one way to improve data reporting would be to centralize it through the mayor’s OPHC. The DAs’ offices and the mayor’s office could report individual incidents to that office, which would, in turn, publicize them in a regular (e.g., monthly) report or through an online dashboard. Such an approach would put hate crime data in one place for the public and the media.

Better data-reporting can provide more clarity on the character of hate crime offenses and offenders. Block-level information on where hate crimes occur would allow a better understanding of how concentrated hate crime is—and therefore, how responsive to “hot spots” policing it might be. Determining how many hate crime offenders have a history of mental illness would also be valuable. Useful insights could be gleaned from data produced as a by-product of standard mental health evaluations conducted at Rikers; the mayor’s office or an inferior agency should collate and regularly release these data. More clearly understanding the role that mental illness plays in contemporary hate crime offending would allow a better understanding of treatment’s place in the prevention of hate crimes.

New Yorkers and their leaders already know that hate crime is a serious problem and has been for some time. The new administration has the chance to make New York City a beacon for the rest of the country to show how these offenses can be dramatically reduced.

About the Author

Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, working primarily on the Policing and Public Safety Initiative, and a contributing editor of City Journal. He has addressed public safety policy before the House of Representatives, at universities including Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, and in the Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, New York Post, National Review, and elsewhere. He was previously a staff writer with the Washington Free Beacon, where he covered domestic policy from a data-driven perspective. Lehman graduated from Yale in 2016 with a B.A. in history.

Endnotes

See endnotes in PDF

Photo:  Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

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