Religious-Based Hate Crimes: DOJ Needs to Improve Support to Colleges Given Increasing Reports on Campuses [Reissued with revisions on Oct. 31, 2019.]

GAO-20-6 Published: Oct 25, 2019. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2019.
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Fast Facts

Religious-based hate crimes are on the rise on America’s college campuses, according to data from the Departments of Education and Justice.

DOJ offers publications, webpages, and educational activities to help colleges and campus law enforcement monitor and address these crimes. However, much of DOJ’s information is outdated and difficult to find in one place. In addition, many colleges are unaware of what resources are available.

We recommended that DOJ update, centralize, and share its information to make it easier to use.

Religious-based Hate Crimes on College Campuses, as Reported to Education and DOJ, 2009-2017

Line graph showing 189 reports to Education and 59 to DOJ

Line graph showing 189 reports to Education and 59 to DOJ

Reissued with Revisions Oct 31, 2019
On October 31, 2019, a sentence on pg. 14 of this report was revised to state the correct number of religious-based hate crimes reported to the Department of Education (103 in 2009 and 189 in 2017) and Department of Justice (24 in 2009 and 59 in 2017). In the original version, these numbers were transposed between the two agencies.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

Data from the Departments of Education (Education) and Justice (DOJ) show an increasing number of reported religious-based hate crimes on college campuses during the past decade. While these agencies collect slightly different data, crimes reported to Education have increased from 103 in 2009 to 189 in 2017, and crimes reported to DOJ increased from 24 to 59. These trends were largely driven by increased reports of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim crimes, according to DOJ data. However, DOJ officials and some stakeholders GAO interviewed said DOJ data likely undercount these crimes due to underreporting. Although no federal agencies collect data on the frequency of religious bias incidents—non-criminal acts motivated by bias against a religious group—representatives of eight of the sixteen stakeholder groups GAO interviewed said the prevalence of these incidents on college campuses is also increasing.

Incident Reported to Education and DOJ as a Religious-based Hate Crime

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To prevent and respond to religious-based hate crimes and bias incidents on campuses, stakeholders GAO interviewed said some colleges have encouraged reporting, implemented new policies, and educated students and staff about their effects. Such efforts must be informed by First Amendment considerations at public colleges. Some colleges have also worked to promote religious tolerance, communicate publicly about crimes, and build relationships with religious groups.

Education and DOJ provide information and other resources to help colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders monitor and address religious-based hate crimes and bias incidents, but key DOJ information does not reflect new trends—such as changes in technology—and is difficult to find. For example, DOJ's publication most relevant to religious-based hate crimes and bias incidents on campuses and college practices to combat them was published in 2001 and does not reflect new trends or evolving college practices to address them. Further, colleges wishing to learn about DOJ resources must review almost 80 linked webpages or be routed to the homepages of five DOJ offices. DOJ officials said they share information about agency resources with colleges via newsletters, presentations, or the agency's website, but 10 out of 16 stakeholder groups GAO interviewed said they or their college members were unaware of DOJ's resources. Until DOJ makes up-to-date information easy to find and shares this information with colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders, these groups may miss opportunities to effectively use the resources to address these crimes and bias incidents.

On average, 205,000 U.S. residents report being victims of hate crimes every year, according to DOJ officials. Hate crimes, including those motivated by bias against an actual or perceived religion, can have a broader effect than other kinds of violent crimes because they target both the victim and the group the victim represents. GAO was asked to review religious-based hate crimes on college campuses.

This report reviews 1) the prevalence of religious-based hate crimes and bias incidents on college campuses; 2) what steps colleges are taking to address them; and 3) the extent to which Education and DOJ help colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders monitor and address these crimes and bias incidents.

GAO analyzed DOJ and Education hate crime data from 2009 through 2017, the years for which all relevant data are available. GAO reviewed studies to identify college practices to address this issue as well as Education and DOJ policies, programs, and resources that could help colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders monitor and address these crimes and bias incidents, and how the information is shared. GAO also interviewed representatives of 16 stakeholder groups, including college associations, campus and public safety organizations, and religious groups.

Reissued with revisions on Oct. 31, 2019.

On October 31, 2019, a sentence on pg. 14 of this report was revised to state the correct number of religious-based hate crimes reported to the Department of Education (103 in 2009 and 189 in 2017) and Department of Justice (24 in 2009 and 59 in 2017). In the original version, these numbers were transposed between the two agencies.
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Recommendations

GAO recommends that DOJ update, centralize, and share more information about its resources to help address religious-based hate crimes on college campuses. DOJ agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that relevant DOJ offices update information about religious-based hate crimes on college campuses, practices to address them, and available DOJ resources to help colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders monitor and address these crimes. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
DOJ has taken a number of steps to address this recommendation, including creating a campus-specific brochure that highlights the Community Relations Service's (CRS) hate crimes prevention and response resources for campus stakeholders. It also created a webpage, "CRS Responds to Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes at Colleges and Universities," which provides examples of the types of supports available to college law enforcement and administrators, and highlighted recent examples of such efforts. Additionally, DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) developed hate crimes-specific training curriculum to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, including those on campus.
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that relevant DOJ offices centralize information on DOJ's website about available agency resources to help colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders monitor and address religious-based hate crimes on college campuses. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
DOJ created an audience filter specifically for "Universities/College Campuses." This centralizes and provides direct links to recently developed resources, including the Community Relations Service brochure, which could be relevant for preventing and responding to religious-based hate crimes on campus.
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that relevant DOJ offices share more information about available DOJ resources with colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders to help them monitor and address religious-based hate crimes on college campuses. (Recommendation 3)
Closed – Implemented
DOJ took steps to work with campus-based law enforcement organizations, such as the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, the International Association of Chiefs of Police's University and College Police Section, and the National Association of Student Affairs Professionals. This included participating in a conference in June 2020 and contacting the groups to increase awareness of its hate crimes website. DOJ's Community Relations Service (CRS) also held two webinars in September 2021 on campus based hate crimes that targeted campus law enforcement and administrators. Specifically, more than 150 college administrators attended a webinar on September 17, 2021 that provided information on available DOJ resources related to religious-based and other bias incidents and hate crimes, including: 1) a review of the DOJ hate crimes website, 2) an overview of CRS services and programs, and 3) a panel discussion of a CRS-supported "Dialogue on Race" at a Florida college earlier in 2021.

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