Data Gaps Make It Hard To Track Hate Crimes In Rural Areas

Oct 29, 2018

Saturday's attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh has focused attention on the rising number of hate crimes in this country. In 2016, according to the latest FBI data , more than 6,000 hate crimes were reported-motivated by biases against things like race, religion or sexual orientation. Most happen in cities. But data is lacking for these crimes in rural areas, including the Mountain West.

Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn co-directs the Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming. He said he's not experienced any outright expressions of antisemitism since moving here ten years ago. But the attack in Pittsburgh really worries him.

"There's a lot of concern that people in our community have. How many times does it have to happen for there to be attacks like this when Jewish people have to wonder if they're safe?" said Mendelsohn.

Each year, the FBI collects hate crime statistics from local law enforcement agencies. Robin Maril is an attorney with the Human Rights Campaign. She said because the program is voluntary, rural counties and cities don't always participate, but also, "the absence of rural data doesn't necessarily indicate that there's not a problem. It just indicates that we don't have the data."

Wyoming is one of five states without a statewide hate crime law on the books.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.