California and Los Angeles bucked a national trend last year by reporting a slight drop in hate crimes, while law enforcement agencies throughout the nation reported an 8% increase, according to data released Monday.
According to an FBI national tally, there were 7,722 reported incidents of crime motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or physical or mental disability in 2006.
That figure represents a 7.8% increase from the 7,163 cases reported in 2005.
Conversely, police in California and Los Angeles reported 6% and 3.7% declines respectively: The state as a whole saw its hate crime figures fall from 1,379 to 1,297, while Los Angeles reported eight fewer hate crimes than the 219 it reported in 2005.
However, there was one similarity between California and national figures -- at least half of all hate crime cases reported in 2006 were motivated by race.
The 2006 report is available online at www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2006/index.html.
Statisticians and those who track hate crimes said it was difficult to draw any hard conclusions from the government's data because law enforcement agencies are not required to submit hate crime information to the FBI.
Of the more than 17,000 police agencies across the country, 12,600 provided data on incidents.
"The number of hate crime incidents increasing [nationally] may be due to a significant increase in the number of police agencies reporting numbers," said Robin Toma, executive director of the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, which tracks hate crimes in the county. Nationwide, Toma said, many agencies don't participate in the gathering of hate crime data.
Most notable, he said, was the jurisdiction encompassing Jena, La., where the appearance of nooses last year raised racial tensions and the beating of white students by black youths garnered heavy publicity. Despite these events, authorities there do not participate in the annual hate crime count.
In California however, "hate crime reporting is a part of the fabric of law enforcement work," Toma said.
According to the FBI's national figures, race was the motivating factor for 4,000 hate crimes last year, with 2,640 incidents specifically targeting blacks.
The total number of incidents is the highest since 2001, when 9,730 hate crimes were reported. That spike was believed related to anti-Arab or anti-Muslim incidents stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the FBI's report for that year.
The study found that 51.8% of all hate crimes in 2006 were motived by race, 18.9% by religion, 15.5% by sexual orientation, 12.7% by ethnicity or national origin and 1% by physical or mental disability.
Macias reported from Washington and Winton from L.A.