Mississippi ranks last nationwide in the number of police agencies that haven't filed a single hate-crime report with the FBI in a six-year period, according to data compiled by the Associated Press.
Sixty-four percent of Mississippi's sheriff and police departments reported no hate crimes from 2009 through 2014, the data shows. A statewide breakdown reviewed by the Sun Herald shows most agencies in the six southernmost counties did report a hate crime; most did not report a hate crime for one or more years during that period.
Do the numbers mean there were no hate crimes? Or that they're not being reported?
Probably the latter, according to AP personnel who compiled and analyzed data reported to the FBI for its Uniform Crime Report.
Law enforcement agencies around the nation provide their crime data to the FBI, which publishes the data in standardized reports that can be viewed by city, county or state. The UCR is an official source of crime numbers. The FBI uses the UCR to publish annual reports on crime trends in the United States, law enforcement officer deaths and assaults, and hate crimes.
A review of crimes in New York, for instance, showed a particular hate crime that had been committed but not reported to the FBI, AP State Government Editor Tom Verdin said.
Sporadic reporting and failure to report are issues of trust, he said.
The analysis shows about 17 percent of police and sheriff departments nationwide haven't reported a hate crime in six years, and others report hate crimes sporadically.
6 agencies didn't report
In Mississippi, the data shows 226 agencies didn't file a hate-crime report in the six-year period, including six in South Mississippi -- police departments in Bay St. Louis, Lucedale, Lumberton, Moss Point and Ocean Springs, and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.
"If we have a hate crime, we're going to report it," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said. Ezell became sheriff in January 2015.
Locally, only Stone and George counties' sheriff departments reported a hate crime in five of the six years, the data shows. Fourteen local agencies reported two to four hate crimes.
Gulfport not in reports
The only local law enforcement group that didn't appear in the reports is the Gulfport Police Department, which reported suspected hate crimes during each of the years reviewed.
"I believe it is responsible as a police department that we are transparent with our numbers -- good, bad or indifferent," Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania said.
Papania's department uses a records-management system that is linked to the National Incident-based Reporting System. Papania said the system makes it easier to report crimes to the FBI.
Reporting a hate crime to the FBI requires a click of a button on standard UCR forms. Police and sheriff's officials fill out the standard form online. Most of it requires clicking on boxes and typing in numbers. One part of the form asks for information on crimes that fall in violent or property crime categories. Another part tracks crimes including sex offenses, DUIs, weapon charges and burglaries.
However, the FBI's definition of a hate crime for reporting purposes is not the same as proving a hate crime. According to the FBI, if a reasonable person would conclude an incident was a hate crime, or if a majority of a community appears to believe it's a hate crime, it should be reported as a hate crime.
Under federal law, a hate crime is "a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity."
Mississippi law is similar but does not include gender identity.