LANSING — In late 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was raging in Michigan, the state’s top law enforcement agency quietly began tracking what it deems hate or bias incidents against police.
The agency counted 10 incidents of what it describes as anti-police bias and recorded them under its hate/bias category in the four months between September and December of that year, Public Affairs Representative Lori Dougovito said in an email. The incidents, like hate crimes, are reported by Michigan police agencies to state police for inclusion in its Michigan Incident Crime Reporting reports. Those reports are eventually shared with the FBI.
In 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, the agency recorded 148 such incidents, which included bias from suspects arrested for crimes ranging from non-aggravated assault to obstructing police. MSP doesn’t have a standard definition for what constitutes as an “anti-police” bias and leaves the determination up to the reporting officers from the local agency.
Governors of four states have signed bills to officially track anti-police incidents as hate crimes, including Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas. Kentucky considers a person to have committed a “hate crime” against police if the person knew or believed the victim was a police officer and intentionally committed a crime against them because of their job.
There is no criminal code for bias incidents against police in Michigan, where tracking is at the impetus of state police, not the state Legislature. A bill to make targeting emergency personnel including police because of their job a crime in 2017 languished in the Legislature.
Dougovito said the agency tracks incidents of bias against police to better understand what prompted a crime to occur and how to create safer environments for police.
Christina DeJong, a Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice professor, said she is concerned about the effort devaluing hate crimes against underrepresented groups.
“Hate crimes are meant to protect disadvantaged or underrepresented groups in our country, and police officers do not fall into those categories (unless a police officer can argue that they were targeted for violence because of their race or gender),” she wrote. “The intent of hate crimes is to protect those with less power in our society, and police have a significant amount of power.”
Michigan State Police officials define a hate crime as a criminal offense committed against a person or property “which is motivated in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, ethnic/national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or mental/physical disability group.”
The department recorded 610 incidents in 2021 involving hate crimes, involving 769 victims, 564 of which were people. The largest category of hate crimes involved race, with 439 incidents, or 57% of hate crime. Anti-Black or anti-African American bias comprised the majority of those complaints with 269 incidents, MSP said.
Anti-law enforcement was the second-largest category, at 148 incidents, or 19% of complaints, the department found.
The majority of hate crimes fall into four categories: intimidation or stalking (196 incidents), non-aggravated assault (126), damage to property (87), and aggravated/felonious assault (80).
Incidents of anti-law enforcement bias were included in a list of more than 25 crimes, such as non-aggravated assault and obstructing police to damage to property to weapons offenses to embezzlement.
MSP Outreach and Community Engagement Coordinator Breanna Ballinger said in an email that criminal incidents include a mandatory entry for suspected bias motivation, and that entry is used to indicate if the incident was in part or wholly motivated by hate bias.
“These entries are utilized to create the state’s hate crime data, which is then forwarded to the FBI for inclusion in their annual publication,” she wrote.
Former Republican state representative Klint Kesto from Commerce Township argued having more data on crimes gives legislators an opportunity to address the root of a crime and create policies that would prevent future ones from occurring.
He was among a group of legislators, including then-state Rep. Andy Schor, a Democrat, who introduced bills in 2017 that would have made targeting a victim based on their vocation as a corrections officer, police officer, EMT or firefighter a hate crime. During that time, legislators in other states tried to pass what was colloquially called Blue Lives Matter bills to strengthen penalties against people who are found guilty of such crimes.
Kesto intended to develop more training for police when doing their day-to-day duties.
“As policymakers, we’re looking to support our officers and have their back,” he said. “To not stand for people to committing the crimes and victimizing them on a false sense of emergency just to attack them, they don’t deserve that.”
His bill wasn’t to make every act against police to be a hate crime, he said. But he was focusing on targeted attacks such as a Dearborn man who attempted to fire a handgun at an officer and was killed by police in December, or when a man shot two State Police troopers earlier this month.
Skeptics are nonetheless concerned about the statistics being used to harm minorities and create a victimization mindset among police.
The Blue Lives Matter laws and the movement started as a direct response to Black Lives Matter, said Chris Williams, a University of Chicago sociology doctoral student whose research examines how laws exacerbate racism, classism, sexism, ableism and sexual orientation discrimination.
“It dilutes the power of a hate crime,” he said. “If anyone can be a part of a hate crime statute, then it doesn’t mean anything. The reason hate crimes were even a thing was tied to the fact that there’s a group of people under targeted attack.”
Wayne State University psychology professor Pontus Leander wondered who is recording the incidents as biased. He pointed to a study he conducted in 2020 with a team of psychologists that looked at various mass shootings and found people are more sympathetic to hate crimes when it supports their own interests.
Who is reporting the incident of bias, he added, matters because they may view it differently than the person who reported it.
Williams added that tracking incidents of bias against police creates a slippery slope for people who interact with police. He questioned whether a protester who shouted anti-police rhetoric within the hearing of a police officer could be accused of anti-police bias in Michigan, or charged with a crime in other states with laws on the books.
Williams doesn’t buy the argument that tracking incidents of bias is helpful to law enforcement. He said there are already criminal statutes for people who attack or interfere with law enforcement such as assaulting a police officer, failing to yield to emergency vehicles or evading arrest.
“The story is they were an occupation, but the way they started to be included isn’t because of employment status, but as minority status as blue calling themselves as a racialized minority,” he said of law enforcement.
Members of the Lansing Police Department and the FBI are on scene at Comerica Bank in the 5200 block of S. Cedar in Lansing Wednesday afternoon, June 28, 2017. A bank robbery was reported at 2:51 p.m. A male left the bank and left on foot. Tracking with K-9 was unsuccessful. [MATTHEW DAE SMITH/Lansing State Journal]
None of the recorded incidents of bias are sent to the FBI with a hate designation, Dougovito added, as the tracking only serves to give police a deeper look into officer safety and the motivation behind crimes.
That could change in the future.
“…in 2019, MSP personnel corresponded with representatives of the FBI who identified four other states (Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) that were already collecting Anti-Law Enforcement as a Hate/Bias designation and indicated that the FBI would be looking into collecting this designation at the national level in the future,” she wrote.
The FBI did not respond to a message left seeking comment.
Both Williams and DeJong said they aren’t against protecting police more, but doing so under the category of hate crimes creates more harm than good.
“It’s important to track crimes committed against police officers, but I would recommend that it be done separately rather than under the umbrella of ‘hate crime,'” DeJong wrote. “Adding crimes against the police to the hate crime category distorts what those laws are intended to measure.”