In the USA, rising concern about ethnic conflict has led to the creation of special bias crime units (BCUs) in a number of police departments. The vast majority of states have some form of hate crime legislation against crimes motivated by race, religion, gender, etc. Criticisms have been leveled against this legislation, among them the claim that it could be a tool for discrimination against minorities or that the laws are largely a symbolic response to ethnic conflict. Records an exploratory study of BCUs in 16 small to medium police departments in central USA. Notes that an officer who is prejudiced against a group may fail to apply the law. Details the variety among the departments surveyed, of which only 25 per cent had established a BCU. Concludes that departments’ commitment to BCUs is weak in general. Also finds that Law Enforcement Management Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) data, although widely used, is often inaccurate, due to the inherent limitations of mail surveys.
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