The FBI’s latest annual report shows a decline in violence against Jews, findings that are at odds with Jewish watchdog groups who say anti-Semitic hate crimes have hit their highest levels in history during the past two years.
The FBI’s 2021 findings, released at the end of last year, have sparked accusations the federal law enforcement agency is deflating these statistics at a time when the American Jewish community is facing an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism. At least one watchdog group is calling on Congress to investigate how and why the FBI underreported anti-Jewish hate crimes.
"At a time of record anti-Semitic hate crimes, it is appalling that the FBI's data-gathering has been so badly botched," said Kenneth L. Marcus, chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a watchdog group that combats Jew hatred. "This massive failure has undermined the purposes of hate crimes data precisely when we most need the data. If the FBI doesn't quickly correct this problem, congressional committees will need to ask some serious questions."
Marcus said the FBI’s 2021 statistics on hate crimes against Jews are "essentially useless" due to new reporting procedures that omitted statistics from organizations typically included in the federal agency’s yearly assessment. While the FBI claimed that violence against Jews decreased last year, groups such as the Anti-Defamation League reported that 2021 saw the highest levels of anti-Semitic violence on record. A report from the AMCHA Initiative, a Jewish advocacy group, last year found that assaults on Jewish students and their identities doubled in the 2021 and 2022 academic year.
Marcus, an attorney and former staff director of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, said the FBI’s inaccurate reporting is likely to prompt congressional oversight.
"In my experience overseeing federal civil rights data collections, congressional committees have historically taken a keen interest in the completeness and accuracy of governmental information provided to the public," Marcus told the Washington Free Beacon. "It is hard to imagine that a failure of this scope would escape the notice of congressional oversight staff."
"I am hopeful that the Department of Justice and FBI will clean up this mess on their own," Marcus said. "If DOJ and the FBI do not fix this problem, however, by providing corrected and complete data to the public, we should not be surprised if Congress should get involved."
An FBI spokesman acknowledged the 2021 report was lacking information from multiple agencies across the country. The spokesman blamed this lapse on a shift in how statistics are collected. Due to this change, many law enforcement agencies did not submit their hate crime information in time for the FBI to include it in the most recent report.
"Law enforcement agency participation in submitting all crime statistics, including hate crimes, fell significantly from 2020 to 2021," the FBI spokesman said, referring the Washington Free Beacon to a Dec. 12 press release on the matter that includes similar claims. "Several of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, as well as some states, did not make the transition to [the new system] in time to submit data prior to the reporting deadline, and are not included in the 2021 reported totals."
The Brandeis Center reviewed the FBI’s previous reporting and found that in 2020, for instance, more than 15,000 agencies provided hate crimes data. In 2021, however, just 11,883 agencies provided statistics, a 20 percent drop. This appears to have created the impression that hate crimes against Jewish people declined, even though they rose.
Some of the agencies that omitted data from the most recent report are based in areas with the highest concentration of Jews, including California, Florida, New Jersey, and New York, according to the Brandeis Center. At least 198 anti-Semitic hate crimes occurred in New York during 2021, but none of them were included in the FBI’s final report. Los Angeles County, which also reported a rise in anti-Semitic violence, also is omitted from the FBI’s report.
"The problem is so bad," Marcus said, "that record-high levels of anti-Semitism appear in the official data as actual declines, because major jurisdictions didn’t formally report it."