Determining the Severity of an Incident

Each bias motivated incident is classified according to its degree of severity. The CRSC uses the following procedure to determine the classification of severity for each incident. Admittedly, there are numerous difficulties in trying to make assessments concerning the severity of these incidents.

To determine the severity of each incident, CRSC researchers consider several specific factors. These factors include:

  • Police Label of the Incident Did they treat it as a hate crime, a prank, or something else?

  • Type of Incident Was the incident a cross burning, swastika graffiti, bias motivated vandalism, etc.?

  • Intent Was the perpetrator’s intent to frighten, intimidate, or was it unclear?

  • Physical Contact Was there any physical contact between the victim and perpetrator?

  • Community Reaction How did the community view the incident?

  • Multiple Incidents Was this an isolated incident or one of several incidents directed at the same victim?

  • Damages What was the extent of personal or property damage?

After careful examination of each incident, including a consideration of each of the above criteria, an assessment was made as to the severity of the incident. Each incident was given a number on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being the least severe and 5 being the most severe. As an example, one of the incidents was given a 5 because it included a racially motivated murder. On the other end of the spectrum, an incident in which racial slurs were painted on a building was given a 1. In this case, it appeared to be an isolated incident and there was no direct physical violence to a person.

There are obvious problems with any assessment of the severity of these incidents. To minimize some of the anticipated problems with this approach, we compared the classifications of these events by two researchers who did their analyses separately. In almost all incidents, their conclusions were the same. Where they were not, they discussed the results to see if agreement on their classification was possible. If they could not agree on the classification, a third researcher made an independent assessment and another discussion resulted. If consensus could not be reached after this, a vote was taken and the majority opinion was final.

Despite these procedural safeguards, it is clear that any such classification system has shortcomings. Obviously there is no way to assess the psychological distress or emotional strain that the incident inflicts on the victim. For example, an incident such as a spray painted swastika may not come out as severe on our scale as a burning cross on someone’s lawn, even though the psychological ramifications may be the same. Needless to say, more work needs to be done in this area. We simply offer this as a place to begin and hopefully others can suggest methods to refine this analysis.