2021 Was a Record-High Year for Reported Bias Incidents in New Jersey

Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced today that, according to preliminary data, 1,871 bias incidents were reported to law enforcement agencies throughout New Jersey in 2021.

Compiled by the New Jersey State Police, the statistics for 2021 are preliminary and remain subject to change as the reporting is finalized. But even with this preliminary data, the overall number of bias incidents reported in 2021 represents the highest annual number of bias incidents reported since the State began tracking them in 1994.

The preliminary total number of bias incidents reported for 2021 represents a 29 percent increase from the 1,447 bias incidents reported for 2020. The final data from 2020 are included in a recent report from State Police and the Division on Civil Rights that identifies trends in the data and discusses underlying reasons for the trends.

The rise in reported bias incidents likely reflects a combination of statewide improvements in reporting and community outreach as well as other developments linked to a rise in hate crimes and bias offenses nationwide.

“New Jersey is proudly one of the most diverse states in the country, and we’ve made clear that hate has no home here,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Unfortunately, we are seeing a rise in reports of bias incidents nationwide, and the Garden State is no exception. That’s why the work being done in the Attorney General’s Office to encourage people to feel comfortable reporting bias incidents to law enforcement and to address the root causes of hate is so important.”

“Our commitment to protecting New Jersey residents from acts of hate and bias remains unshakeable,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “New Jersey has been a nationwide leader in taking comprehensive steps to prevent and combat prejudice and hate, but this year’s record-high number of reported bias incidents should serve as a reminder that we still have plenty of work to do.”

“The New Jersey State Police is committed to stopping acts of hatred and biased crime and we encourage all victims and witnesses to come forward and report these incidents.” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Only by working with the residents of New Jersey, our community leaders within and fellow law enforcement, can we make a difference in solving this reprehensible issue.”

“Reported bias incidents in New Jersey continue to rise at an alarming rate, but each year’s Bias Incident Report equips us with the information necessary to push the scale towards justice,” said DCR Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino. “We must all continue to work towards a New Jersey free from hate, discrimination, and bias. We encourage anyone who has been subjected to bias-based harassment or discrimination at work, in housing, or in a place of public accommodation to file a complaint with DCR at https://bias.njcivilrights.gov/en-US/.”

Overall Trends

The preliminary total of 1,871 reported bias incidents in 2021 means that New Jersey has hit a record high for the third year in a row. The 994 bias incidents reported in 2019 reflected a 75% increase from 2018’s total of 569, and the 1,447 bias incidents reported in 2020 exceeded 2019’s total by over 45 percent.

Reported bias incidents are up by over 400% since 2015’s record low of 367.

The increase has been driven in significant part by an increase in reports of bias-based harassment. According to the preliminary data, 971 reported bias incidents from 2021 were classified as reports of harassment. Increasing reports of bias-based harassment account for approximately 57% of the overall increase in reported bias incidents from 2020 to 2021, based on preliminary data.

The dramatic increase in reported bias incidents in recent years is likely due in part to several statewide improvements in reporting. New Jersey has made a concerted effort over recent years to encourage people to feel comfortable reporting bias incidents to law enforcement, to make it easier to file a report, and to ensure that law enforcement agencies respond appropriately to all such reports.

At the same time, better reporting is only part of the explanation. After analyzing data from 2019 to 2020, the Division on Civil Rights links the increase in reported bias incidents during that period with multiple social and political factors. They include the COVID-19 pandemic, backlash against the Black Lives Matter protest movement that grew from the murder of George Floyd, and racialized rhetoric around the 2020 election.

Types of Bias

According to the preliminary data, anti-Black and anti-Jewish bias continued to be the most common race- and religion-based motivations for reported bias incidents in 2021, as in past years. Anti-Black bias was cited as a motivation for 686 reported bias incidents in 2020 and 877 reported bias incidents in 2021 – representing 39% of all reported motivations in both years. Anti-Jewish bias was cited as a motivation for 298 reported bias incidents in 2020 and 347 reported bias incidents in 2021 – representing 17% of all reported motivations in 2020 and 15% of all reported motivations in 2021.

In addition, according to the preliminary data for 2021, there were 373 reported bias incidents motivated at least in part by bias against LGBTQ+ people – an annual increase of 64% from the 227 such incidents reported in 2020. If these incidents are treated as a single category, they represent the second-largest category of reported bias incidents in 2021, after anti-Black incidents. Most significantly in that category, reported incidents involving anti-transgender bias were up 171%, from 17 incidents in 2020 to 46 incidents in 2021.

The preliminary data also reflect notable increases in 2021 in reported bias incidents associated with bias against Asian people. There were 69 reported incidents involving Anti-Asian bias in 2020, compared with 129 incidents in 2021, for an increase of 87%. Anti-Asian bias represented 4% of all reported motivations in 2020 and 6% of all reported motivations in 2021.

These trends from 2020 to 2021 follow notable increases from 2019 to 2020 in bias incidents motivated at least in part by bias against people because they are Black, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, or LGBTQ+.

The number of reported bias incidents involving a particular group may reflect the size of the relevant population in New Jersey, their willingness to report bias incidents to law enforcement, and barriers to reporting, among other factors.

Locations for Reported Bias Incidents

The types of locations where bias incidents are reported to have occurred remained largely consistent in 2020 and 2021.

However, 2021 was the first year in which New Jersey State Police separately tracked incidents occurring in “cyberspace,” which previously were classified as “other/unknown.” There were 275 reported bias incidents occurring in cyberspace in 2021 (roughly 15% of all reported incidents). Relatedly, the number of reported bias incidents occurring at “other/unknown” locations dropped from 308 in 2020 to 68 in 2021.

At the same time, the number of reported bias incidents occurring at elementary and secondary schools increased from 96 in 2020 to 207 in 2021 (an increase of 116%) as children returned to in-person education. Incidents occurring in virtual school settings were coded as “other/unknown” or “cyberspace.”

Responses to Increases in Reported Bias Incidents

In addition to its efforts to encourage the reporting of bias incidents to law enforcement, the State has undertaken a number of actions during the Murphy Administration to address hate and bias.

Many of the State’s efforts focus on combatting hate and bias among young people in particular. These efforts were highlighted in the 2020 report of the Youth Bias Task Force, which proposed sweeping changes to fight systemic racism and discrimination.

Recently enacted laws also require that students in designated grades receive instruction on the contributions to society of Asian American and Pacific Islanders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – groups that saw some of the most notable increases in reported bias incidents from 2020 to 2021.

Other initiatives include an expansive package of initiatives to use the broad reach of the Department of Law & Public Safety to promote racial justice throughout New Jersey, and the creation of a new Incident Response Team within the Division on Civil Rights that can respond in the community following a major civil rights incident.

The Department also announced in December 2021 the receipt of two competitive U.S. Department of Justice grants totaling more than $1 million to combat hate crimes in New Jersey. Implementation of both grant programs is underway:

$750,000 for Public Awareness Campaign. This grant, from the Collaborative Approaches Toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime-Demonstration Projects Program, will fund a major public awareness campaign using television, print, radio, digital, and social media to encourage New Jersey residents to confront the rising tide of hate by, among other things, recognizing and reporting bias incidents and crimes. It also will fund community events and training programs for law enforcement and victim services professionals.

$300,000 to Enhance Bias Incident Reporting. This grant, from the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Program, will be used to improve bias incident reporting by funding upgrades to record management systems to enable law enforcement agencies to participate in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

Background on Bias Incident Reports

Under New Jersey law, bias incidents are suspected or confirmed acts of bias intimidation motivated by a victim’s perceived or actual race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity or gender expression.

The law defines the crime of bias intimidation as an offense committed to intimidate – or with knowledge that such an action would intimidate – an individual or group of individuals because of the characteristics listed above. Bias offenses can include harassment, vandalism, assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief and homicide, among other offenses.

The data released today are based on reports of bias incidents submitted to New Jersey’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) System by every law enforcement agency in the state.

The system is operated by the State Police to track crime rates in New Jersey. By law, every state, county, and local law enforcement agency must submit information to the UCR System on any suspected or confirmed bias incident reported to them.

Consistent with New Jersey’s Bias Incident Reporting Standards, the final bias incident data recorded for 2020 and preliminary data recorded for 2021 represent all reported bias incidents, regardless of whether the underlying conduct was ultimately found to involve a chargeable offense. Members of the public are encouraged to report bias incidents to their local police departments, or via the NJBIAS online portal at https://bias.njcivilrights.gov, or by calling 800-277-BIAS.

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