Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story indicated that Maryland police agencies failed to voluntarily report hate crime statistics to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All state police agencies report that information to the Maryland State Police, which forwards the information to the FBI. This story was updated Sept. 4.
Hate crimes in Maryland more than doubled in 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reported this week.
The 2020 numbers reported by the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer demonstrate a concerning trend: Until 2020, hate crimes had declined in the state in the last few years, with only 19 reported to the federal agency in 2019.
In 2020, the FBI shows a 286% increase in crimes committed against people in Maryland based on their race, ethnicity or ancestry from 2019 to 2020.
Of the 40 crimes Maryland police departments reported to the federal agency in 2020, 27 were motivated by race and ethnicity: 14 committed against Black people, five against white people, four against people who identify with multiple races, three against Hispanic people and one against an Asian person.
“We need to use the law to do what we can to try to prevent these crimes,” Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) said when asked about the FBI’s 2020 report Tuesday. “Prevention is more powerful than punishment.”
The FBI report showed that hate crimes nationally reached their highest level in more than a decade, with 7,759 cases in 2020 across the U.S., though that figure is widely believed to be under-reported.
But the numbers reflected on the FBI’s website are much lower those included in the Maryland State Police Hate Bias Report, which captures both criminal and non-criminal bias incidents, and may provide a more complete picture of hate-based harassment in the state.
For example, Maryland law enforcement agencies reported just 19 hate crimes to the FBI in 2019. But according to the 2019 Hate Bias Report, 385 hate bias incidents were reported to law enforcement, 86 of which were verified upon police investigation.
The Maryland State Police report also includes incidents that are verified, inconclusive or unfounded; only verified crimes are reported to the FBI.
The state’s hate crimes law protects individuals based on their race, color, national origin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability gender and housing status.
Under Maryland law, a person can be charged with a hate crime for committing or threatening to commit a crime against a person or group; defacing, damaging, destroying or burning someone’s property; or following through with any of these acts in conjunction with a felony or other crime that results in a person’s death.
Law enforcement agencies across the country submit crime statistics to the FBI through its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
Under Maryland statute, each of the state’s 153 police departments and the State Fire Marshall is required to submit all information relating to hate crimes to the Maryland State Police for analysis. The State Police sends UCR reports to the FBI on behalf of all state agencies.
According to a dataset published on the FBI Crime Data Explorer website, 14 police agencies submitted reports of verified hate crimes to the FBI in 2020: the Annapolis Police Department; the Anne Arundel County Police Department; the Baltimore County Police Department; the University of Maryland Baltimore County Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; the Harford County Sheriff’s Office; the Maryland National Capital Park Police; the Montgomery County Police Department; the Greenbelt Police Department; the Prince George’s County Police Department; the Bowie Police Department; the St. Mary’s College Office of Public Safety; the Maryland State Police; and the Baltimore Police Department.
Maryland State Police Spokesperson Elena Russo said that the 2020 Hate Bias report will be published online on Oct. 1.
Only 10 Maryland law enforcement agencies reported hate crimes to the FBI in 2019; 27 local and county-level police departments reported hate bias incidents to the State Police that year. Six incidents were reported to unidentified multi-jurisdictional agencies.
Notably, the Howard County Police Department reported 49 hate-bias incidents to the State Police in 2019 — more than two-and-a-half times what the FBI reported for the whole state.
“I take these numbers with a grain of salt because I know, just anecdotally … that these crimes are just underreported,” Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Hettleman and Del. Vaughn Stuart (D-Montgomery) successfully sponsored legislation during the 2021 session that will allow judges to include anti-bias education courses when sentencing people convicted of hate crimes.
“So any increase is alarming, but when you know that they’re underreported you know that it means that there’s just that much more,” Hettleman said.
Carter and Del. Carl Jackson (D-Baltimore County) co-sponsored legislation to expand the definition of a hate crime during the 2021 legislative session to include making false police reports against an individual on the basis of their immutable traits. The bill passed the House, but not through the Senate.
“I want to emphasize that it’s important to be proactive and not reactive to these kinds of crimes because if we’re being reactive, that means someone was being affected by these type[s] of crimes where we could have been proactive and chances are it wouldn’t have happened at all,” Jackson said.