The Politics of Social Regulatory Policy: State and Federal Hate Crime Policy and Implementation Effort

Article excerpt

Research suggests there has been a rise in the number of hate crimes since 1985. At the same time, legislatures at the local, state, and national level have enacted policies that both track and regulate hate crime. This article is an effort to determine the factors influencing hate crime policy and implementation efforts. The project is divided into three sections: In the first section, the characteristics and extent of hate crime are discussed. Section two describes hate crime policy as social regulatory policy and uses this theoretical framework to explain state variation in laws concerning hate crimes. In section three, I present a model of policy implementation to predict state implementation efforts of federal hate crime policy. Based on the variables suggested by these theoretical frameworks, I present hypotheses and conduct a multiple regression analysis using a fifty-state data set. The results indicate hate crime policies and implementation efforts are largely attempts by politicians to satisfy organized interests in competitive political systems. I discuss the implications of these findings and suggest avenues for future research.

Everyday in the United States someone is attacked on the basis of his or her race, religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. These attacks often take the form of verbal harassment but some end in violent assault or death. Recent studies indicate a rise in the number of "bias" or "hate motivated" crimes since 1985 (Comstock 1991; Jost 1993b; McDevitt and Levin 1993; Lutz 1987; NGLTF Policy Institute 1993,1994) and an apparent resurgence of hate groups (Anti-Defamation League 1988; Hamm 1993).

At the same time that hate crimes appear to be on the rise, a majority of the American states have passed laws that regulate bias motivated criminal behavior. The passage of these statutes is largely viewed as a response to increasing levels of hate crime, but an empirical relationship has not been established. The federal government has taken action on hate crimes as well. In 1990 President Bush signed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act into law. The Act instructed the FBI to collect statistics on hate crimes in the United States and asked for the voluntary cooperation of state law enforcement agencies in collecting hate crime statistics.

This discussion raises two important empirical questions: first, what factors explain the high level of state legislative activity concerning bias motivated crime and second, what are the determinants of state voluntary participation with the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990? The research presented here uses multiple regression analysis on a fifty-state data set to examine these questions. In section one, I define and describe the characteristics and politics of hate crime. In section two, I characterize hate crime policy as a social regulatory policy to model the pattern of politics involved in the adoption of hate crime laws. The social regulatory policy framework suggests that hate crime policy is likely to result from the level of hate crimes in a state, potential interest group strength, bureaucratic power, party competition, and issue salience. Finally, in section three, the discussion and results of the first two sections are used to guide an examination of state law enforcement agency participation in the collection of statistics for the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990. 1 conclude with a discussion of the findings and their implications for theories of policy formulation and implementation.

SECTION I: THE CHARACTERISTICS AND POLITICS OF HATE CRIME

Hate crimes are often defined as crimes that are committed, wholly or in part, because of the victim's race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation (U.S. Department of Justice 1993: 1). As with most crime, less violent hate crimes are committed more often than violent crimes but no matter the level of violence, all hate crimes are thought to negatively impact both the victim and society Perpetrators of hate crimes are often characterized as young, white, lower-class males who commit the crimes for excitement or because of resentment of a minority group (Comstock 1991: 60-62; McDevitt and Levin 1993). …