By PETE YOST
WASHINGTON - The number of hate crime incidents and victims declined in 2009 compared with the previous year, the FBI reported Monday.
Of more than 6,000 hate crime offenders, over six in 10 were white while nearly two in 10 were black.
Nearly half of the crime incidents in 2009 were motivated by racial bias, nearly 20 percent by religious bias and over 18 percent by sexual orientation bias.
More than half the reported hate crimes against individual people were assaults, said the FBI. One out of a hundred hate crimes involved murder or rape.
There were 6,604 hate crime incidents reported last year, down from 7,783 in 2008. There were 8,336 reported victims, down from 9,691 in 2008. The victim totals include not only individuals but also businesses, religious buildings and other institutions.
The year-to-year figures in the FBI reports for 2009 and 2008 are not exactly comparable because the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the bureau on hate crime went up last year to more than 14,000, compared to 13,690 in 2008. Nearly 4,000 police jurisdictions do not participate in the program, said the group Human Rights First.
Given the recent decline in crime generally, "it's certainly possible there is less hate crime," said Ryan King, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany. Violent crime dropped by 11.2 percent and property crimes 5.5 percent from 2008 levels, according to Justice Department data.
The Anti-Defamation League welcomed a substantial drop in the number of hate crimes in the latest report but expressed disappointment that more than 60 cities with over 100,000 populations each did not participate in the study.
On balance, "we welcome the fact that the FBI's report contains both the lowest hate crime totals since 1994 and the largest number of reporting law enforcement agencies ever," ADL national chair Robert Sugarman and ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.
The report said that out of some 4,000 victims of racial bias, seven in 10 were victims because of prejudice against blacks.
Out of nearly 1,600 victims of anti-religious bias, about the same proportion - seven of 10 - stemmed from anti-Jewish bias.
In a separate study, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that homosexuals are far more likely to be victims of violent hate crime than any other minority group.
Timing the release of its study to coincide with the latest FBI report on hate crimes, the nonprofit center said it based its conclusion on 14 years of FBI hate crime data covering 1995-2008. The center said that homosexuals, or those perceived to be gay, are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.