Hate crimes across the United States spiked 17 percent in 2017 — marking a rise for the third straight year — with a 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, according to an FBI report released Tuesday.
There were 7,175 reported hate crimes last year, up from 6,121 in 2016. The FBI's annual hate crimes report defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person's race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.
There was a nearly 23 percent increase in religion-based hate crimes, with more than 900 reports of crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions. The FBI said there were 2,013 hate crimes against African-Americans, a 16 percent increase.
Some of the increases may be the result of better reporting by police departments, but law enforcement officials and advocacy groups don't doubt that hate crimes are on the rise.
The report's release comes about two weeks after a gunman shot to death 11 people inside a Pittsburgh synagogue. The suspect in that shooting, Robert Bowers, 46, expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police that "all these Jews need to die," authorities said. Bowers was charged with federal hate crimes and other charges.
"This report provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America," said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League. "That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs."
The Justice Department has said it is prioritizing hate crimes prosecutions and created a specialized initiative last month, which includes a website for hate crimes resources.
More than half of the reported hate crimes in 2017 were motivated by bias against a person's race or ethnicity, according to the report.
There were 1,130 reported incidents targeting people because of their sexual orientation, including 679 anti-gay hate crimes, a small increase compared to 2016. Anti-Muslim hate crimes were down about 11 percent, according to the report.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said the crimes were "despicable violations of our core values as Americans."
"This report is a call to action — and we will heed that call," Whitaker said in a statement Tuesday. "The Department of Justice's top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes."
The FBI says although the number of attacks has increased, so has the number of law enforcement agencies reporting data on hate crimes. About 1,000 additional police agencies reported information in 2017 compared with previous years, the FBI said.
Critics have long warned that the data may be incomplete, in part because it is based on voluntary reporting by police agencies across the country.
The Justice Department said last month that 88 percent of police departments that provided data for the 2016 annual report had reported zero hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation in 2016 found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff's departments across the country had not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI's annual crime tally during the previous six years.
The Anti-Defamation League said some of police departments in major U.S. cities didn't report hate crimes as part of the annual report, including the Honolulu Police Department, Indianapolis Police Department and police in Kansas City, Kansas. Other departments, like the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and police in Miami, Florida and Newark, New Jersey, reported zero hate crimes.
Last month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Justice Department's new hate crime initiative was "taking on the challenging task of addressing the gap in hate crime statistics" and officials were reviewing the "accuracy of those reports."
Rosenstein cautioned that just because hate crimes aren't being reported doesn't mean they aren't happening. The Justice Department is endeavoring to learn about obstacles law enforcement agencies have with reporting hate crimes to the FBI, he said.