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Criminal Justice Reform Groups Pan Trump’s No-Good Speech on Crime

“What we heard runs counter to what American law enforcement knows to be true: Our country's crime rates are at historic lows.”

CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomCHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomIn a primetime convention speech heavy on selectively chosen crime statistics but light on context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed violent crime was on the rise in the U.S. But criminal justice reform groups and criminologists say the real numbers paint a more complicated picture, and it's still too early to tell whether recent upticks in violent crime are just an outlier.

In his speech to accept the Republican nomination for president Thursday night, Trump said President Obama "has made America a more dangerous environment than frankly I have ever seen, and anybody in this room, has ever watched or seen."

"Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration's rollback of criminal enforcement," Trump thundered. "Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America's fifty largest cities. That's the largest increase in 25 years."

The nonpartisan advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums fact-checked Trump's claims and declared that the "jury is still out" on whether crime is trending upward in America.

"Not all the data are in yet, but preliminary data do suggest that violent crime rose in 2015," according to a FAMM fact sheet. "However, crime remains very low compared to its peak in the early 1990s, and it's too early to tell whether this crime rise will continue and turn into a long-term trend."

FAMM was among many groups that parsed Trump's numbers and found them lacking. Richard Berk, a professor of statistics and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post, which thoroughly fisked Trump's caims, that they were "a good illustration of how to lie with statistics."

A closer look at crime statistics shows that the increase in violent crime was clustered in a few large cities.

For example, a Brennan Center for Justice analysis of crime in 2015 found that, while the national murder rate rose by 13.2 percent in the 30 largest cities last year, murders in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. accounted for half of the increase. Likewise, aggravated assaults in Los Angeles accounted for more than half of the rise in violent crime in those cities. Meanwhile, crime overall in two-thirds of the cities actually dropped, offsetting the dramatic spikes in others. Crime overall in the 30 largest cities remained flat over the previous year.

Molly Gill, the director of legislative affairs at FAMM, said Trump's speech was "full of fear-mongering in terms of what's happening with crime in the U.S."

"Crime is still low," Gill said. "It's been declining for 30 years, and even though we've seen numbers in 2015 that we should keep an eye on, it's not necessarily a harbinger of doom. We don't know if it's a blip or an upward trend."

Jason Pye, the communications director of FreedomWorks, a libertarian-leaning group that supports criminal justice reform efforts in Congress, agreed. Pye said a one or two-year increase in crime may just be an outlier, noting that murder rates rose in 2005 and 2006, only to continue their three-decade-long downward trend in 2007.

"Certainly, recent events are concerning, and we agree that steps need to be taken to restore peace in our communities," Pye said. "The Republican Party's platform, as approved this at the convention, notes the positive justice reforms implemented by GOP governors. We believe that a step in the right direction toward restoring trust in the justice system is to bring those reforms to federal sentencing and corrections policies. There was nothing in Donald Trump's acceptance speech that indicates any opposition to these changes, and we hope that the Republican nominee and his policy advisers will look at the successes of the states and support the effort in the House and Senate to reform the federal criminal justice system."

Gill also called for sentencing reform. "If [Trump] really cares about police and public safety, we need to focus on sentencing reform," Gill said. "Police and prosecutors support that. They would rather spend their time solving crimes."

Despite Trump's bluster about backing law enforcement, Ronal Serpas, the chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration and the former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, said Trump's rhetoric will only make policing more difficult.

"What we heard runs counter to what American law enforcement knows to be true: Our country's crime rates are at historic lows," Serpas said in a statement. "Misrepresenting these facts only makes our job harder."

Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, which says it represents around 200 police chiefs, sheriffs, and district attorneys, recently sent a letter to both Trump and Hillary Clinton urging the presidential candidates to support sentencing reform efforts.

"As the candidates develop their policy platforms, we hope they will engage with the men and women who have spent decades keeping our country safe," Serpas continued. "We know from our experience the best way to do that: stop wasting resources indiscriminately locking more people behind bars and instead focus on preventing and enforcing violent crime"

Photo Credit: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom

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  • Citizen X||

    Picture too scary for alt text?

  • FreeSpeechMatters||

    I don't find either the picture or Trump's comments scary. Trump is right that crime is going up. As a criminal justice expert wrote on the Washington Post web site, the crime rate is increasing, and has been since 2014:

    "2015 closed with a 17 percent increase in homicides in the 56 largest cities, a nearly unprecedented one-year spike. Twelve cities with large black populations saw murders rise anywhere from 54 percent in the case of the District to 90 percent in Cleveland. Baltimore's per capita murder rate was the highest in its history in 2015. Robberies also surged in the 81 largest cities in the 12 months after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. In the first quarter of 2016, homicides were up 9 percent and non-fatal shootings up 21 percent in 63 large cities, according to a Major Cities Chiefs Association survey."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    BREAKING NEWS: Candidate Lies to Paint Problem Only He Can Fix

  • Bill Dalasio||

    It's the bullshit agenda. Looked at rationally, the recent increase in crime rates is something that should be looked at on the radar, but really isn't an issue as of yet. In terms of what people should be paying attention to, federal debt, moribund economic growth, and terrorism/global instability should all rank much higher. But, those are all issues of limited appeal to morons.

  • BigT||

    Did you actually watch the speech?

    He said: "

    Homicides last year increased by 17% in America's fifty largest cities. That's the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation's capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore.

    How could you write:

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed violent crime was on the rise in the U.S

    Even your article says:

    For example, a Brennan Center for Justice analysis of crime in 2015 found that, while the national murder rate rose by 13.2 percent in the 30 largest cities last year,

    Very sloppy journalism. It appears you had a conclusion before you heard the speech.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Except none of that justifies any of the fear Trump is trying to stir up.

    "It appears you had a conclusion before you heard the speech."

    The irony...

  • BigT||

    I am greatly in favor of justice reform. But don't make things up to support your point - it undermines your credibility.

    But Trump quoted facts, that the author distorted - Trump did not say that "violent crime was on the rise" or anything equivalent. It may have been meant to imply that crime was rising, but the author was trying to call Trump out on facts. And he was wrong.

  • Calidissident||

    Trump claimed that Obama "has made America a more dangerous environment than frankly I have ever seen, and anybody in this room, has ever watched or seen." That is a nonsense claim. 1 or 2 year spikes recently don't change that.

  • BigT||

    Trump:

    The irresponsible rhetoric of our President, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone.

    It may be a matter of opinion, but more cops have been gunned down already this year - 31 - than in a long time. I think Obama's divisive rhetoric contributes to a dangerous environment for all people. Many blacks are more wary of the cops, and some cops are on the defensive as well.

  • bassjoe||

    more cops have been gunned down already this year - 31 - than in a long time.

    By "long time"... I assume you mean 2011 when 68 officers were gunned down? If trends hold (completely not a given) 2016 will be above average since 2002 but nothing unusual.

  • Calidissident||

    How is that a matter of opinion? There is no legitimate argument to make that 2016 is the most dangerous year in Trump's lifetime, or close to it. The total for this year for cops is not even past last year's (granted, it likely will be by year-end), let alone a long time (see the link below that says 42 cops were killed by gunfire last year). And using that number, which is well below 1% of total homicides, as the barometer for this claim is puzzling

    "I think Obama's divisive rhetoric contributes to a dangerous environment for all people. Many blacks are more wary of the cops, and some cops are on the defensive as well."

    Obama didn't create animosity between black people and cops. Those feelings have been present a long time, Obama has just vocalized them on occasion. I'm not saying I've agreed with everything Obama has to say on the subject, and I agree there have been times where he spoke prematurely and/or inaccurately on things. But for a lot of people who criticize him on this issue, the fact that he's criticized cops at all, and talked about racism (by cops and in general) at all, is enough for them to attack him and accuse him of being divisive.

    Trump has no credibility to criticize him in this regard. Trump has been far more racially divisive than Obama has (at least in the timeframe since his campaign started). Over 80% of minorities have an unfavorable of him, and there's a lot of anger and outrage on both sides of the divide as a result of his campaign

  • Calidissident||

  • WTF||

    "Not all the data are in yet, but preliminary data do suggest that violent crime rose in 2015

    So there actually has been a recent uptick in violent crime.

    Murders up 20% in 2015 in NYC.

    And not just in places like Baltimore and Detroit. Is it an aberration, or indicative of an upward trend? I don't know, but it might be worth discussing honestly rather than just dismissing it out of hand as meaningless, because it was worse in the '90s.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I don't know, but it might be worth discussing honestly rather than just dismissing it out of hand as meaningless,...

    But no one wants to do that. On one side you've got the people dismissing it. On the other you have people citing it as proof positive that the bad old days of the 70s have returned.

    But, the real answer is "We don't have enough information."

  • WTF||

    Exactly my point. It's just as dishonest to say the spike is meaningless as it is to say the spike is the start of a new era of high crime.

  • Calidissident||

    The writer never claims the spike is meaningless - he claims that the picture is more complicated than Trump makes it out to be, that it's still too early to tell whether the increase is a statistical blip or indication of the start of a trend, and includes some stats that run counter to Trump's narrative that the country is more dangerous now than it's ever been in his lifetime. You read the "meaningless" claim into the article.

  • bassjoe||

    They're not dismissing the uptick; indeed, the uptick is being acknowledged as existing.

    The argument is that Trump selectively used these stats to paint a fearful picture that criminals are running roughshod over the country and that's somehow Obama/Hillary's fault -- despite the fact that crime has been going down for most of Obama's tenure (just like how it went down for most of Bill and George W's tenures) -- and only he can fix it, magically on his first day in office. (Indeed, it's been going down so regularly for so long it is completely not surprising that any uptick will be "worst increase in crime we've seen in 25 years".)

    Even Trump's campaign manager claimed this has nothing to do with facts or trends but that people "feel" they're in danger from criminals all the time.

  • Calidissident||

    This is exactly why Trump's speech is a perfect example of lying with statistics. Cite a couple of stats to paint a picture of a country falling apart being ravaged by crime, and when people call you out, you'll get defended by people saying "Well, technically his stats were true."

    Trump's central claim, that Obama has made the country more dangerous than it has ever been in his lifetime is simply false nonsense, and there are no statistics to back it up.

  • WTF||

    My point is that it's just as dishonest to say the spike is meaningless as it is to say the spike is the start of a new era of high crime. The fact is that neither side actually can know at this point in time. Difficult concept, I know, since it doesn't advance anyone's political talking points.

  • Calidissident||

    Please quote the part of the article where the writer claims the spike is meaningless.

    And again, quibbling over the exact nature of the recent increase is beside the point when Trump is claiming that the country is more dangerous than it has been at any point since WWII.

  • SKR||

    you keep trying to light that strawman that no one is arguing.

  • NoVaNick||

    Being tough on crime has been a staple issue for the GOP since Nixon. Or it could be decoded into "we will protect you from the dark beasts who are ravaging your cities." Lots of white proggies have moved into cities like DC in recent years but I doubt they will go for this the way blue collar whites did in the 60s and 70s. So who, other than core Trump supporters, will buy this?

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