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Law enforcement and legal experts: Hate crimes down in Virginia can be misleading

RICHMOND, Va. -- New data released by the FBI shows reports of hate crimes are up nearly 5 percent nationally, but down in Virginia.

Yet, many law enforcement and legal experts said the numbers don't tell the full story.

"My mom was been calling me every day to make sure I made it home safe. Make sure I made it to work safe because she's worried," said Michael Bowman, whose parent's SUV was spray painted Halloween night with the words "gay move die."

Michael Bowman

Despite his mother's concern, Bowman refuses to hide.

"I'm still worried, but I'm going to keep living life," Bowman said.

Still, upsetting Bowman is the fact that Virginia law does not consider an assault or property crime based on anti-gay sentiments a hate crime.

"I've actually had a lot of people come to me and say hate crime is just political correctness. I'm like, no, a hate crime is not for political correctness or anything like that, it is actually to go further than vandalism because they're threatening someone based on who they are," Bowman said.

However, the federal government does consider such crimes committed based on hate bias related to sexual orientation "hate crimes."

Bowman said he plans to report his incident to the FBI.

The agency just released 2016 hate crime numbers, which show a five percent increase in the number of hate crimes reported nationally.

In Virginia, the numbers are down overall, but Bill Farrar with the ACLU of Virginia said hate crimes are frequently under-reported.

"It's hard to tell how real these numbers actually are because of real problems with reporting.  Many folks feel that reporting a hate crime could actually lead to additional negative repercussions," Farrar said.

And, Dana Schrad with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police said hate crimes can be hard to prosecute.

"You have to be able to really prove the motivation and without being able to get into someone's head you've got to find other documentation or other evidence or other witnesses who can corroborate the victim's belief that the offense against them was based on hate," Schrad said.

"And that can be difficult?" CBS 6 Problem Solver Melissa Hipolit asked.

"Very difficult," Schrad responded.

Even though crimes based on sexual orientation are not considered "hate crimes" in Virginia, many agencies still collect numbers on those incidents.

While hate incidents based on race, religion, ethnicity or disability stayed the same or went down between 2015 and 2016, those numbers show hate incidents committed based on sexual orientation in Virginia went up from 22 to 27, according to data from Virginia State Police.

"We're in a difficult time and people for whatever reason seem to be more comfortable expressing discriminatory views and taking discriminatory actions," Farrar said.

Here are the FBI's latest hate crime numbers.

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