More than half of Indiana's police agencies failed to file hate crime reports with the FBI between 2009 and 2014, a trend advocates say is troubling and one reason why state lawmakers need to change the state's standing as one of five states without a hate crime law.
An analysis by The Associated Press found that 281 of Indiana's 535 police agencies, or 52 percent, were among more than 2,700 agencies in the U.S. that didn't file hate crime reports in that six-year span. The no-response rate for Indiana is three times the national no-response average of 17 percent — and the third-highest percentage in the U.S. of police departments that didn't file the voluntary reports, behind only Louisiana and Mississippi.
Chris Paulsen, the campaign manager for the gay rights group Freedom Indiana, said crimes against LGBT residents, as well as people targeted because of their religion, ethnicity and other bias factors, go unreported every year in Indiana.
"I'm not surprised they're not reporting because what would they report?" Paulsen said of the AP's findings. "There are all kinds of hate crimes that go unreported because there's no mechanism for reporting them."
Legislation that would have created an Indiana hate-crime designation allowing for tougher sentences by taking into account a victim's race, religion, gender identity and other factors was approved this year by the Indiana Senate, but the House took no action on that bill.
The other states without hate crime protections are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.
Indiana's current lack of such protections shouldn't be a hindrance to police investigations into suspected hate crimes, said Rob Wiley, the president of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police and police chief in the northeastern Indiana city of Kendallville.
"If those factors are evident, they're going to be included in an investigation," he said.
But Wiley said there could be some confusion among departments about what to report to the FBI, including whether they should file data even if they had no hate crimes to report in a given year.
All of the 281 agencies that did not file hate crime reports are in relatively small communities. Among the largest is Zionsville, an affluent suburb of about 25,000 northwest of Indianapolis that has one of the nation's lowest crime rates for communities of its size.
Zionsville Police Chief Robert Knox said his department regularly reports crime data to the FBI, but it didn't file hate crime data because it didn't have any over those years.
"We'll absolutely file the paperwork to let the FBI know if that happens. But at this point we've just had none reported to us," he said.
Indiana law includes a bias crime provision that directs state police to collect data on such crimes and publish an annual report. But the numbers in those reports fluctuate significantly from year to year because some police departments don't consistently pass on their data, said David Sklar, government relations director for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council.
He said those pushing for a statewide hate crime law want an updated definition of what law enforcement should be tracking and a requirement that all Indiana police agencies report data to the FBI.
"Nobody is holding the law enforcement agencies accountable if that data does not come forward," Sklar said.
State Police spokesman Capt. David Bursten said the agency adopted an online submission system this year to "improve the quality of the data as well as submission rates" from police departments. Other changes have allowed for better tracking of departments that aren't submitting bias crime reports, but the impact of those changes won't be known until early 2017, he said.