WASHINGTON – Maryland hate crimes have dropped by almost one-third over the last five years, but the state still has the nation’s ninth-highest rate of such crimes, according to FBI data released this week.
State officials explain away Maryland’s relatively high ranking by saying they have become victims of their own success at reporting hate crimes: They noted that Maryland’s hate crime rate is 27 times as high as that of Mississippi or Louisiana.
Maryland State Police Lt. Bud Frank said he was “very confident” that “all incidents that occur in the state of Maryland are reported,” but cautioned that “maybe not all incidents that occur in other states are reported.”
The FBI Uniform Crime Report is “not a true picture of what is going on in the state,” Frank said.
Maryland reported 230 hate crimes to the FBI in 1999, including 161 based on race, 37 based on religion and 25 based on sexual orientation. There were also six crimes based on ethnicity and one on disability. That was down from 353 hate crimes in 1995.
The state’s hate crime rate has fallen in that same period from seven per 100,000 residents to 4.5 per 100,000 in 1999. But the state has remained in the top 10 throughout that period.
Only three counties — Garrett, Kent and Somerset — did not report any hate crimes in 1999.
The FBI data has its problems. Reporting by states and individual police departments is voluntary. Alabama did not report data in 1998 and 1999, for example, and several other states have skipped years.
But in Maryland, reporting is mandatory. Frank said the state lists crimes and incidents in its hate crime report using “specific guidelines that must be followed.”
Maryland goes one step further, compiling police reports of bias incidents, events which don’t constitute a crime but are recorded, such as the distribution of KKK leaflets.
State police reported a combined 644 hate crimes and bias incidents in 1999, including 487 crimes based on race, 81 on religion, 47 on sexual orientation, 25 on ethnicity and four crimes based on disability.
Baltimore County leads the state with 128 total incidents, although Prince George’s County is not far behind with 109. Montgomery County lists 79 and Anne Arundel County lists 71.
Garrett County was the only jurisdiction that did not report either a hate crime or a bias incident to state police in 1999.
Baltimore County officials make the same argument that state officials do for their high ranking in comparison to other jurisdictions: The county looks bad, they said, because more incidents are reported.
“We work very intensely to deal with these issues and we’re very proud of our record,” said Baltimore County spokesman Bill Toohey.
He stressed that the county had the highest “reported” number of incidents, not necessarily the highest number of incidents. While investigating one claim, the county’s “outreach officers” often hear about and record several others, he said.
“We’re all better off that our officers have gone out there and found out about it,” Toohey said.
Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, called Baltimore County a model for the manner in which it tracks hate crimes. He was not so enthusiastic about the practice in neighboring Baltimore City.
The city reported only 11 hate crimes to the FBI in 1999, while similar- sized cities such as Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Ore., have five to seven times as many crimes, Lieberman said. The state report lists 22 hate crimes and bias incidents in Baltimore City.
“There’s something going on. . .with the seriousness with which they treat hate crimes,” said Lieberman. He said it is that seriousness that signals whether a jurisdiction cares about hate crimes.