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Bias & Hate Crimes


In Pennsylvania, a hate crime is defined as a criminal act motivated by ill will or hatred towards a victim’s race, color, religion or national origin.  In Pennsylvania, hate crimes are termed ethnic intimidation and the offense is set forth in the crimes code, Title 18, Section 2710.  When certain criminal offenses are committed with the motive of hate, the crime of ethnic intimidation can also be charged.  Generally, the types of offenses to which ethnic intimidation can be added are called underlying offenses.  These underlying offenses involve danger or harm to you and/or your property.

The Pennsylvania State Police and local police departments charge and investigate criminal offenses that involve ethnic intimidation. 


  • If the incident is happening now, or just happened, call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • If the incident has already occurred, the immediate danger may be over and there were no injuries, contact your local police.
  • If you believe the incident was motivated by your race, color, religion or national origin, ask the officer to note it in the report.
  • When the hate was expressed in words, give the officer the exact wording of what was said, regardless of how offensive it is.
  • If there are witness(es) to the incident, point them out to the officer(s) at the scene.


In Pennsylvania, a person commits ethnic intimidation if he or she is motivated by hatred toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals while committing certain crimes.

WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF POSSIBLE HATE CRIMES? (This list is not exhaustive.)

  • Harassment (in person or electronically
  • Physical assault
  • Destruction of Property
  • Criminal Trespass
  • Arson or Firebombing
  • Terroristic Threats


  • If the suspect is in the process of committing another crime, and calls the victim a derogatory name, it does not automatically mean that ethnic intimidation has taken place.
  • If the suspect uses insulting or derogatory words but does not place another person in a reasonable fear of harm to their person or property, this is not ethnic intimidation.
  • If the suspect uses insulting or derogatory words but does not place another person in a reasonable fear of harm to their person or property, this is not ethnic intimidation.
  • If the incident is not found to be a crime – ethnic intimidation or any other type of crime - there is often not much enforcement action police can take. PHRC does keep statistics on bias incidents and encourages the reporting of every incident of this type.


If it is found that there is no directly enforceable action that can be taken by police, this does not mean what happened to you wasn't wrong.  You may also bring a civil cause of action against the perpetrator, which carries a lower burden of proof than proving a crime.  The perpetrator may be liable to a victim for general and special damages, including damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. You will need to contact a private attorney to start a civil action.


PHRC does not charge or investigate hate crimes or criminal offenses.  PHRC does track incidents reported to us in order to inform the PA Interagency Task Force on Community Activities and Relations.  This is a group of state agencies who work to prevent and respond to civil tension and violence arising from conflicts between ethnic or cultural groups and when there are public expressions of bias or hate.  The primary function of the group is to quickly and appropriately address civil tension when conflicts occur, and to promote positive community relations among various groups in order to prevent tension.

PHRC can also assist you in determining if an act of hate also violates the PA Human Relations Act (PHRA).  To obtain this assistance, contact the PHRC regional office near you. 

If you are reporting a crime such as property damage or assault that you believe was motivated by hate, please contact your local police authorities or the local Pennsylvania State Police Station who provides services to your community prior to reporting it to PHRC. 

Contact information for PA State Police. 717-783-5599 NON EMERGENCY LINE HOURS ARE MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY 8:30 A.M. - 5::30 P.M.

To report an incident to PHRC for informational and tracking purposes, please contact us at  717-772-0523.  To request assistance in determining if a hate crime is actionable under the PHRA, contact our Philadelphia Regional Office (215-560-2495); Pittsburgh Regional Office     (412-565-5395); or Harrisburg Regional Office (717-787-9780).


To learn more about federal hate crimes consult the FBI's Hate Crime site.