National Institute of Justice awards FIU $1M to improve investigation and prosecution of hate crimes

National Institute of Justice awards FIU $1M to improve investigation and prosecution of hate crimes

At a time when federal statistics show hate crimes on the rise nationally, prosecutors face significant challenges in flagging, investigating and prosecuting such crimes, often leading to underreporting and, potentially, increased victimization.

In partnership with district and state attorneys around the country, researchers from FIU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice plan to study investigation and prosecution strategies to help prosecutors develop more effective policies and practices for identifying and prosecuting hate crimes, and for providing assistance to crime victims.

Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the project is the second prosecutorial study at FIU funded by NIJ, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2017, the university partnered with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office on a project to study LGBTQ hate crimes in Miami. Altogether, FIU has received nearly $9 million in grant funding for its prosecution research, including several significant awards from the MacArthur Foundation.

“This new project will expand the geographical and substantive focus of FIU’s hate crime research by examining all types of hate crimes at a national level,’’ said Besiki Kutateladze, criminology professor at FIU and the project’s lead researcher.

FIU has created partnerships with prosecutorial offices in Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Broward County, as well as professional associations like the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) and Fair & Just Prosecution (FJP). These partnerships will allow researchers to build an unprecedented dataset by examining prosecutorial case files, interviewing line prosecutors, investigators, victim service providers and community liaisons from the five partner jurisdictions.

“With better data, we can increase the accountability and transparency of prosecutorial offices and enable elected leaders to use that data to meaningfully engage with communities adversely affected by victimization, underreporting, or lack of prosecution,’’ said Melba Pearson, senior fellow in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and co-investigator on the project.

Researchers also plan to examine state laws, policies and procedures across U.S. jurisdictions and interview 80-100 elected/appointed prosecutors nationally. The goal is to identify external and internal factors that enable or hinder hate crime detection, investigation and prosecution and recommend opportunities for reform, including, potentially, future hate crime legislation. The project will be housed within the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, whose researchers will assist with the work.

Last year, hate crimes in 37 major U.S. cities increased by nearly 39%, with the 10 largest metropolitan areas reporting a record increase of 54.5%, according to an analysis of national police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. If the increases seen so far this year hold, it would mark the fourth consecutive year in which hate crimes have risen in the United States.

“Recently, we have seen an increase in hate crimes and heightened bias rhetoric nationally,” said Shlomi Dinar, interim dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. “In addition, law enforcement professionals face a tremendous task of balancing the tension between protecting free speech and preventing the spread of hate. Working with researchers, community groups and area experts is key to finding this balance. The Green School is proud to be a part of this important work.”