Donald Trump wants you to think that America is a scary, scary place. In his speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Trump claims that “decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.” He unleashes a blizzard of cherry-picked statistics all directed at one purpose — convincing you that crime has run amok and that he is the only thing that can save you.
Don’t believe him. The reality is that crime isn’t just on a downward trend, but it has been for a very long time.
Trump begins his flurry of statistics with several claims. “Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities,” according to the GOP candidate. “In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore.”
Mr. Trump’s first claim is unusually specific. Though it is true that homicides did increase in the nation’s 50 largest cities in 2015, data is not yet available for the overall rate of homicides throughout the nation in that same year. According to the FBI, however, the nation’s homicide rate showed a steady rate of decline from 1995 through 2014:
Though it is possible that the 2015 data, when it is available, will show an uptick in homicides, a brief uptick is not inconsistent with an overall downward trend. Between 2004 and 2006, for example, the number of homicides per 100,000 people grew from 5.5 to 5.8. Yet it quickly resumed its decline, reaching a low of 4.5 in 2013 and 2014.
Moreover, while Trump names two cities with unusually large spikes in homicides between 2014 and 2015, in at least one of them that trend appears to be reversing. Homicides are down 9 percent in 2016 when compared to the same period in 2015, according to the Washington, DC police department.
In an apparent effort to rhetorically link a supposed rise in crime to President Obama, Trump next claims that “in the President’s hometown of Chicago, more than 2,000 have been the victims of shootings this year alone. And more than 4,000 have been killed in the Chicago area since he took office.” This is actually a significant step back from a statement Trump made just last week in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, where Trump claimed that “in Chicago where we’ve had almost 5,000 killings, deaths, from the time [Obama] became president.”
In any event, Trump’s newer number is closer to the truth. According to Factcheck.org, 3,506 homicides have occurred in Chicago since 2009, when President Obama took office. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy, but there is no reason to believe that President Obama’s policies have contributed to these homicides. To the contrary, as Factcheck.org also shows in a chart, the homicide rate in Chicago has remained fairly consistent since Obama took office, and it is now about the same as it was during President George W. Bush’s final year in office:
Trump also warns of an uptick in police shootings, claiming that “the number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year.” This claim, however, is not especially meaningful. The number of police killed in the line of duty was very small in 2015, and it continues to be very small in 2016.
As of July 9, 26 officers were shot and killed in 2016. By the same date in 2015, 18 were shot to death.
The overall trend, according to the BBC, is very promising. As with homicides overall, the rate of police officers killed as a result of criminal activity is trending downward and has done so since at least the early 1980s:
The frightening landscape that Trump presents, in other words, does not exist. Or, at least, it doesn’t exist unless you believe in a giant national conspiracy. Trump’s national campaign chair apparently subscribes to that theory:
Paul Manafort told @CNN he doesn't trust FBI stats showing crime has been dropping for years because of how it handled Clinton email probe
— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) July 22, 2016
The truth is out there, Mr. Manafort.