The Misleading Crime Statistics At The Republican Presidential Debate, Explained

CREDIT: AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.

Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, loves to talk about “lawlessness.”

He has claimed that recent demonstrations on college campuses over racism are a product of the “lawlessness” that President Obama allows. He has said that Democrats are “allowing lawlessness to reign in this country” by supporting Black Lives Matter and questioning police conduct.

And in Thursday night’s GOP debate, he claimed that Obama’s scrutiny of the police, the existence of sanctuary cities, and the decriminalization of marijuana in some U.S. states are all products of that lawlessness.

“This president allows lawlessness across this country,” the New Jersey governor declared before saying that he would make our streets safe again.

But Christie’s entire argument is based on the persistent myth that crime is spiking under Obama, spurred on by police brutality protests.

Christie wasn’t the only one buying into that claim. Fox Business host Neil Cavuto’s question was just as misleading as Christie’s response.

“I wonder what you make of recent statistics that show violent crime has been spiking, sometimes by a double digit rate, in 30 cities across the country,” Cavuto said, before alluding to the so-called “Ferguson effect” as a cause.

It’s an argument that Christie and other presidential candidates including Ted Cruz have also made in the past — that increased scrutiny of the police after high-profile shootings in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other U.S. cities has caused police to slow down enforcement, leading to an increase in crime. But it’s a completely unfounded argument.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in November that there is no data to support the Ferguson effect. “While certainly there might be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it,” she said in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

Similarly, DOJ leaders testified that there is no credibility to the theory during a hearing on the “war on police” called by Sen. Cruz.

Conservatives, including Christie during the debate, continue to cite FBI Director James Comey, who made comments last year about the recent uptick in violent crime and its connection to recent protests. While he claimed that additional scrutiny of police in the wake of the protests may have led to an increase in crime, he acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion. Criminal justice experts have criticized him for his speculations and Obama has also disputed his finding, saying we cannot “cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.”

Experts also say that crime rates are often manipulated and misinterpreted, which might account for recent reports from across the country that crime rates are spiking. A report released by the Brennan Center for Justice in November found that crime rates have remained unchanged over the past year, despite the media hype of skyrocketing crime rates over the summer.

In fact, Christie himself has been chastised by the White House for spreading false information about rising crime rates. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in November that Christie’s claim that Obama doesn’t support police was “particularly irresponsible.”