BOSTON (AP) — More than 17 percent of law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts have failed to file hate crime reports with the FBI in the past six years, a response rate that’s in line with the national average but troubling to community leaders who say it’s important to know the full extent of the problem.
An investigation by The Associated Press identified more than 2,700 city and county law enforcement agencies around the country that did not file any hate crime reports with the FBI between 2009 and 2014. In Massachusetts, 63 agencies failed to file reports during that time period. Those agencies included nearly 50 police departments and all 14 county sheriffs.
Some agencies said they did not file reports because they did not have any hate crimes during those years and were unaware the FBI wanted them to file a report simply to say there were none. Others said they were unaware they were supposed to file separate reports on hate crimes.
Civil rights advocates worry that the lack of reporting could be an indication that police are not aggressively investigating to determine whether crimes have overtones of racism or other types of bias. In Massachusetts, a hate crime is defined as any criminal act coupled with behavior that shows the crime was motivated by racial, religious, ethnic, disability, gender, sexual orientation or transgender bias.
‘‘To us, hate crimes are very important crimes because they affect an entire community, not just the person who’s been the victim of the crime,’’ said Sarah Wunsch, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
‘‘It doesn’t help to have data that’s bad. If it’s highly incomplete, it’s not useful. It doesn’t give us evidence we need to try to evaluate what’s really happening.’’
The FBI’s training manual says the collection and publication of national hate crime data results in greater awareness and understanding of the problem nationwide and gives law enforcement a greater ability to target money, training or staff where they will be most effective. But several Massachusetts law enforcement agencies that have not submitted reports for at least the past six years say the FBI has not communicated that to them.
‘‘We’re not hiding anything — no one asked us for it,’’ said David Tuttle, superintendent of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.
Tuttle’s office runs the county jail. He said the sheriff’s office has investigated fights between inmates, but none in recent memory have been determined to be motivated by bias.
Cliff Goodband, data information manager for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said some states make crime reporting mandatory, but Massachusetts does not. He said many of the communities that have not submitted hate crime reports do not submit any crime statistics at all. Many of the non-reporting departments are in small towns, which may only have one full-time police officer.
‘‘We do reach out to as many as possible … but a lot of these small towns may not even have somebody answering the phones,’’ said Goodband, whose office sends crime reports on to the FBI.
Police departments that do consistently file crime statistics and hate crimes reports cover 95 percent of the state’s population, Goodband said.
From 2009 to 2014, Massachusetts law enforcement agencies reported an average of more than 300 hate crimes per year.
Keith Luke, a self-described white supremacist from Brockton, was convicted in the 2009 racially motivated killings of two people, and the rape and shooting of a third person who survived. All three victims were of Cape Verdean descent.
Last month, two Boston brothers who claimed to be inspired in part by Donald Trump’s views on immigrants were sentenced to state prison after pleading guilty to assault and hate crime charges for beating a homeless Mexican man because they thought he was an in the U.S. without legal documentation.