Many civil rights groups say the 1980s have witnessed a surge in crimes that are racially or religiously motivated. But they have no way of proving it. The United States does not compile data on racial violence as part of its Uniform Crime Report. With the exception of Maryland, neither do the states, which model their criminal-reporting systems on the federal system. Neither do most cities.
``The lack of a federal effort to routinely compile and report separate statistics on racially and religiously motivated violence affects the type of crime statistics maintained on the state and local law enforcement levels,'' says a 1985 report of the Idaho Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. A proposed National Hate-Crime Statistics Act is likely to be approved by Congress this year, predicts Julian Epstein, aide to US Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D) of Michigan, its sponsor. The bill was passed by the House last year, but was tabled by the Senate.
``It's a federal problem,'' says Mr. Epstein. ``If someone is targeted for his race, religion, or ethnic origin, then there's a potential violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes.''
Implementing a national hate-crime reporting system will be difficult without improved coordination between law-enforcement agencies at federal, state, and local levels, experts say.
It may not be an insurmountable problem, however. In Idaho and eastern Washington, a concerted effort to alert law-enforcement officials to the need to identify and keep track of such events has resulted in ``a very noticeable change in the attitude of law-enforcement personnel,'' says Larry Broadbent, undersheriff for Idaho's Kootenai County.