A.C. Thompson, Rohan Naik and Ken Schwencke
D.C.) -- To become a police officer
in the U.S., one
almost always has to enroll in an academy for some basic
typical academy session lasts 25 weeks, but state governments — which
police academies for local and state law enforcement officers — have
latitude when it comes to choosing the subjects that will be taught in
How to properly identify and investigate hate crimes does not
high on the list of priorities, according to a ProPublica review.
Only 12 states, for example, have statutes requiring that
instruction on hate crimes.
In at least seven others — Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada,
Dakota and Texas — recruits aren’t required to learn about hate crimes
according to law enforcement officials.
Even states that provide new recruits with at least some
education on hate
crimes often provide training that is cursory at best.
Officials overseeing police training in three states —
Carolina and Washington — told ProPublica that their recruits spent
minutes of class time on the subject.
Hate crimes in America: few get reported, fewer are
Hate crimes in America have made no shortage of headlines over
the last year
as the country has once more confronted its raw and often violent
religious and political divisions. Just how few hate crimes get
reported and analyzed has shocked many. Fewer still get successfully
prosecuted, a fact that has provoked frustration among some elected
and law enforcement agencies.
But the widespread lack of training for frontline officers in
how to handle
potential hate crimes, if no great surprise, might actually be the
justice system’s most basic failing. There is, after all, little way to
accurately tabulate or aggressively prosecute hate crimes if the
the street don’t know how to identify and investigate them.
Hate crimes are not, by and large, simple to deal with.
identify different categories of people to be protected under their
the authorities must prove not only guilt, but intent. It isn’t enough
fingerprints on a weapon. The authorities must explore a suspect’s
mind, and then find ways of corroborating it.
“Hate crimes are so nuanced and the laws can be so complex.
You’re trying to
deal with the motivation of a crime,” said Liebe Geft, director of the
of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which has for years provided training to
as expert consultants.
“Thirty minutes in the academy is not enough,” Geft said.
Though each state operates its police academies differently,
most of them
rely on a training council or commission to oversee the institutions,
curriculum and set minimum standards for graduation.
ProPublica spent weeks trying to answer the question of how,
if at all,
police departments prepare their officers to respond to possible hate
which are known as bias crimes in some jurisdictions.
We interviewed key officials in 45 states and the District of
the lessons being taught to new recruits during their police academy
We reviewed thousands of pages of training material — curricula,
lesson plans, legal guidance, PowerPoint presentations and videos.
We studied the statutes and regulations governing police
training around the
nation and interviewed experts who have spent years educating officers
federal agents. Several states declined to discuss their instructional
practices, or provide ProPublica with any training materials.
Among our findings:
A key federal training program was scuttled during the early
days of the
Obama administration as police leaders concerned about violence colored
race, religion and politics shifted their focus toward Islamic
terrorism. That program, which was run by an arm of the Department of
Security, sent experts around the country to teach local and state
officers how to respond to hate crimes.
State leaders at times displayed a lack of even basic
knowledge about hate
crimes. In Alaska, the state Department of Public Safety told
officers in that state don’t learn about hate crimes during their time
academy because Alaska doesn’t have a hate crimes law.
In fact, Alaska’s hate crimes statute has been on the books
Training materials used in Kansas explain the history behind
hate crimes law, but make no mention of Kansas Statute 21-6815 — the
hate crimes code — which is likely to be of more use to a local officer
Topeka or Wichita.
Some states that require hate crimes training often combine
with what has long been called cultural sensitivity training. Such
typically involves material on the subtleties of dealing with specific
or religious communities.
Our review, however, showed some of those materials to be
out of date or downright inflammatory.
Reasons why the lack of training
Law enforcement leaders point to several factors to explain,
if not justify,
the lack of emphasis on training for hate crimes. While the offenses
dramatic and highly disturbing — like the incident earlier this year in
white supremacist impaled an African-American man with an 18-inch sword
York’s Times Square — they represent a very small percentage of the
overall crime. Working with often limited budgets, police officials
make difficult decisions about what to prioritize during training, and
crimes can lose out.
That said, the events of the last 18 months, driven in great
part by the
racially charged presidential campaign of 2016, seem to suggest an
priorities might be in order.
The number of Americans reporting hate crimes to the
authorities has grown
in recent years, with FBI figures showing an increase of nearly 5
2016 alone, a tally that included more than 2,000 physical attacks and
More recent data shows double-digit hate crime spikes in several major
Melissa Garlick, the Northeast Area Civil Rights Counsel at
Anti-Defamation League, would like to see every state pass legislation
requiring hate crimes training. “We want law enforcement to have the
need to properly investigate hate crimes,” she said.
Washington & Oregon the states that first put
hate crime laws on the
Hate crimes laws are not new. The earliest legislation was
adopted by a pair
of states in the Pacific Northwest — Oregon and Washington — in 1981
then, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed their own hate
bills. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law a federal hate
bill named after murder victims James Byrd and Matthew Shepard. The
its part, has asked local and state law enforcement agencies to track
crimes since 1990.
Yet today, nearly four decades after the first hate crimes law
police officers in much of the country get little or no training on how
laws work, or what to look for when responding to a potential hate
Huntsville, Alabama has never reported a hate crime
to the FBI
At the police academy in Huntsville, Alabama, instructors
dedicate two weeks
to educating recruits about the state’s penal code. Capt. Dewayne
heads the academy, said he isn’t sure precisely how much time his staff
discussing the Alabama hate crime law during those 10 days of legal
instruction. In an interview, McCarver questioned whether the school
devote more than an hour, at most, to the subject.
The law, which dates to 1993, is similar to others across the
focuses on individuals whose crimes are motivated by their victim’s
color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental
It acts as a “sentence enhancement,” adding time behind bars in cases
from property destruction to murder.
In class, McCarver said, instructors caution students to be
in classifying offenses as possible hate crimes when writing up
reports. He worries that logging incidents as potential hate crimes can
trouble for officers when they testify in court: an aggressive defense
might challenge the officer’s decision to label the offense as a hate
particularly if prosecutors don’t wind up charging it as such.
He told ProPublica that officers in Huntsville “rarely, if
offenses as hate crimes.
“It’s really a box that I personally wish they didn’t put on a
In fact, according to FBI records, the Huntsville Police
never reported a bias-motivated crime to the federal government.
Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer, takes
“We should always train law enforcement to tag it as a
possible hate crime
at the time of report, as long the evidence is there,” said Levin,
the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State
San Bernardino. “We need accurate data, so communities can be aware of
extent of the problem and the characteristics of the offenses.”
Last year, the entire state of Alabama reported only 14 hate
crimes to the
FBI, a figure criminologists believe is inaccurate and represents a
sliver of the true number of hate crimes.
Once on the force, McCarver said, Huntsville officers get 40
additional training each year. That added instruction, however, does
include hate crimes, he said.
“We have a limited amount of time,” McCarver said. “We have
not had a reason
to put hate crimes into the curriculum other than what we learn in the
Huntsville isn’t unique: Across the border in Florida, two of
largest law enforcement agencies, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and
Miami-Dade Police Department, also do not refresh cops on hate crimes
their initial instruction.
Victims are critical sources of information on hate
Boe Turner is chief of training for Nevada’s Commission on
Standards and Training, the body that oversees academies in that state.
thinks officers shouldn’t go looking into the motivation of suspected
offenders. That’s the job of prosecutors, he said. Victims, he added,
tend to have
little insight into the motivations of their assailants.
Experts disagree. Victims, they say, are critical sources of
particularly in hate crime cases. Because the cases are difficult to
prosecutors must show conclusively that the offender was motivated by
or bias — it’s crucial for police to gather as much evidence as
argue, and victims often understand the circumstances surrounding a
better than anyone.
“Training for law enforcement officials on identifying and
hate crimes is critical,” said Becky Monroe, a former federal
now works for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Decent
training, she added, can prepare officers for a pair of intertwined
gathering the right evidence and calming the fears of community members
feel frightened and vulnerable in the aftermath of an attack.
To better equip officers for such investigations, some state
developed thorough and detailed lessons on hate crimes. Instructors at
Law Enforcement Academy, for instance, work from a 61-page handbook,
ProPublica obtained. The manual profiles local white supremacist
extremist groups, examines recent criminal cases and offers practical
The six-page handout in Arizona
But not all training guides are so impressive. A six-page
handout used in
Arizona lists a host of white supremacist groups that have completely
or faded from relevancy, but fails to mention the Hammerskins or
two Nazi skinhead gangs that have murdered people in the state in
In Wisconsin, trainers fold hate crimes training into broader
cultural sensitivity and biased policing. The material includes some
“African Americans may distrust the motives or honesty of a
speaker who is
carefully neutral, objective, and unemotional,” one section of the
states. “By contrast, European Americans may see someone who is
speaking with a
great deal of emotion as irrational.”
The federal government, for its part, has mounted several
initiatives over the years, some more successful than others. Since the
the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services branch has run training
programs aimed at teaching law enforcement agencies how to collect hate
statistics and submit that data to the FBI; today, however, around 12
of those agencies still don’t gather the information at all and many
to give the bureau reliable data.
Hate crime conferences: many are not well attended by
After the federal Shepard-Byrd Act passed in 2009, Cynthia
serving as head of the FBI’s Civil Rights unit, began organizing hate
conferences for state and local officers, educational events that
mechanics of the various state laws and laid out the ways the FBI could
with local hate crime cases. She remembers stressing to local officers
importance of gathering every possible clue, no matter how
Unfortunately, many of the events weren’t well attended,
pulling in maybe 20
to 50 police officers apiece.
“We could not force a police officer to come to our training,”
said Deitle, who
is now an executive at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an advocacy
adding that she understood the challenges faced by smaller agencies —
simply couldn’t take officers off the street for extra
While Deitle was trying to launch a new training effort,
program was coming to end.
For more than a decade, the Federal Law Enforcement Training
Centers ran a
program called “Train-the-Trainer” that routinely sent hate crimes
around the country to work with state and local cops. The idea was to
police trainers and command staff about hate crimes so they could
their departments and teach new recruits and frontline officers.
“It was a great program,” recalled Levin, the director of the
in California who was one of the instructors. “I did stuff on
the hate groups to legal issues such as Supreme Court cases.” Levin
volunteered his time out of a sense of mission and worked alongside
from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL, as well as law
But interest in the issue eventually waned. Several people
familiar with the
effort say it came to a halt in the early days of the Obama
2009, at a time when police departments were shifting their attention
combatting acts of
“Departments really wanted to focus on terrorism rather than
At FLETC, Communications Officer Christa Thompson wasn’t sure
program shut down, but she did know what kind of courses the agency —
teaches local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement — is holding
days: internet investigations, active shooter response, marksmanship
She said, “We do not currently offer hate crimes training” on
originally ran at ProPublica and is
reprinted here with permission. ProPublica is a non-profit news agency
produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
ProPublica was a recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize
for public service,
the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, the 2011 Pulitzer
national reporting and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative
Information presented in the above report is the
product of ProPublica's
reporting and does not necessarily represent the views of the staff or
management of the Sky Valley Chronicle.