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California's hate crime laws unevenly enforced, report concludes
Irvine, Calif. , October 19, 2004
California’s hate crime laws – among the oldest and most comprehensive in the nation – are unevenly interpreted and enforced across the state, according to a report made available today by the California Policy Research Center.
The report also finds that a little more than 40 percent of local police and sheriff departments do not have a hate crime policy to guide their implementation of the state laws, even though they are charged with the responsibility of enforcing hate crime statutes.
“This is reminiscent of the uneven enforcement of other bodies of criminal law, for example domestic violence laws in the 1970s, insofar as some law enforcement agencies are adopting policies and enforcing the law, and some are not,” said Valerie Jenness, UC Irvine professor of criminology, law and society and professor of sociology, and lead author of the report. “For communities that have not adopted hate crime policies, the state hate crime laws appear to be merely symbolic, but in communities where hate crime policies are developed and disseminated to rank-and-file officers, hate crimes are much more likely to be identified and reported.”
To conduct their study, the researchers surveyed 397 police and sheriff departments in California. Along with determining that the state laws were being unevenly implemented, the researchers found that law enforcement agencies that had successfully adopted hate crime policies shared certain key characteristics.
“Our most significant finding is that law enforcement agencies approach the hate crime issue differently because of two factors: community and agency features,” said Jenness. “Certain types of communities are likely to have certain types of law enforcement agencies; in turn, certain types of law enforcement agencies are more or less likely to develop policy and enforce hate crime law. More racially and ethnically diverse communities are more likely to have hate crime policies, perhaps because these communities see greater need for them. And, more affluent communities, especially those that house active human rights commissions, are more likely to have hate crime policies. At the same time, law enforcement agencies that embrace and enact community policing tend to have established a hate crime policy, especially if they have a diverse workforce.”
The researchers were surprised to find that a community’s political leanings, the amount of violent crime and the size of its law enforcement department have minimal influence on whether a hate crime policy is adopted. As Jenness explained, “The point here is that community and agency factors interact to set the stage for the adoption of policy and subsequent enforcement of the law.”
When hate crime policies are adopted by police and sheriff departments, the policies appear to be instrumental in raising officers’ awareness of the law and willingness to actively enforce it. Statistically, law enforcement agencies with an established hate crime policy are about 25 percent more likely to identify and report such crimes, according to data gathered for the report. But more than 40 percent of California’s police and sheriff agencies do not have a hate crime policy in place.
For this reason, the report recommends that agencies without a hate crime policy be encouraged to adopt one. The report also proposes a model hate crime policy that includes a standard statement of purpose and hate crime definition, but allows law enforcement agencies leeway in how they assign responsibility for enforcement within their department. Combining both standardized and customized elements of policy is crucial to law enforcement, according to the report.
Legislative action has already been taken to implement some of these suggestions. Last month, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 1234, which requires a framework for a formal hate crime policy that all state law enforcement agencies should adopt. According to California’s Senate Office of Research, the findings by Jenness and report co-author Ryken Grattet, professor of sociology at UC Davis, were crucial to the development of the bill. “I hope other states, looking to California as a model, also will be able to learn from this research,” Jenness said.
About the California Policy Research Center: The California Policy Research Center (CPRC) is a University of California program that applies the extensive research expertise of the UC system to the analysis, development, and implementation of state policy as well as federal policy on issues of statewide importance. CPRC provides technical assistance to policymakers, commissions policy-relevant research, oversees legislatively mandated research projects, and disseminates research findings and recommendations through publications and special briefings.
About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked public university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with approximately 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,300 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.
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