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The crime rate is down and Donald Trump had nothing to do with it:
James Alan Fox, Opinion columnist
Published 3:15 a.m. ET Sept. 26, 2018
Updated 10:14 a.m. ET Sept. 26, 2018
The crime rate was lower last
year than previous years. Donald Trump can't take credit for that. He was
just lucky to be in office when it happened.
After two straight years
of increasing crime rates, including double-digit jumps in homicide counts,
there is reason to breath a bit easier. According to the latest FBI report
of Crime in the United States, the nation's toll of serious violent and
property offenses dipped in 2017 over the previous year.
with 2016, the violent crime rate per 100,000 population declined by .9
percent, including a 1.4 percent drop in homicide (which would have been a
1.8 percent reduction were it not for the act of one individual last October
in Las Vegas). Meanwhile, the decline in property crime was even more
pronounced with a 3.6 percent lower rate per 100,000 population.
Thus, the surge in the murder rate, often cited by then-candidate and
now-President Donald Trump (aka "Chicken Little") was a short-term
phenomenon, as I (aka "Foxy Loxy") predicted on numerous occasions.
This is not to suggest that the two-year spike in murder wasn't real. The
increase translated into thousands more Americans losing their lives to
violence, especially gun violence. Even so, as in the classic fable, the
surge did not mean that the sky was falling, despite the hyperbole and
finger-pointing tweets (much directed at leadership in Chicago, the
epicenter for the crime spike) coming from the White House.
used a two-year blip to scare Americans
Trump wasn't wrong in claiming
that the increases were fairly historic in percentage terms larger than at
any time since the early 1970s. However, with the murder rate about half
what it was in the early 1990s, the percentage increase would logically be
large. In effect, we were the victim of our own successes. Were it not for
the steep decline in murder over more than two decades, the spike would not
have been discernable.
It is clear that the two-year crime blip,
which helped catapult Trump into the Oval Office with his "Make America
Scared Again" rhetoric, was not evidence of the "Ferguson Effect" or the
result of Mexican criminals entering our country to rape and murder U.S.
citizens. Rather, it most likely was consequence of normal fluctuations in
Unfortunately, long-term trends in crime statistics are
not what drives public perceptions of risk. Most Americans tune out the
sterile-sounding numbers published by the FBI and tune in to anecdotal
stories about cops shot in the line of duty, school shootings or isolated
kidnappings and murders attributed to immigrants. A few high-profile
tragedies draw attention away from the hard facts about crime rates.
Most Americans form their perceptions of crime from graphic visuals of crime
scenes and aftermaths that they see on TV or online. There are plenty of
those no matter how high or low the actual crime rate. That explains why
surveys of the public about crime trends often find a significant disconnect
between perception and reality.
Trump may try to claim victory for
nothing he did
It is true that the most recent shifts in crime are
relatively modest, especially compared with what occurred over the past two
years. One might wonder whether the improvement is itself an aberration from
what could be a growing crime problem that started mid-decade.
reassurance comes from early statistics for 2018, suggesting that the
downturn should continue. Based on an analysis of part-year crime data from
the nation's 30 largest city police departments, the Brennan Center for
Justice has projected that 2018 will yield additional declines in homicide
and overall crime rates.
The good news about recent crime trends
leaves me, however, with one significant worry. My concern is not that crime
rates will rebound once again, but that Trump will seize the opportunity to
claim victory boasting that only he could have made this happen, and
that we must keep him and his congressional loyalists in power to make sure
crime rates stay low.
Notwithstanding Attorney General Jeff
Sessions' attempt to credit his boss, nothing that Trump has done brought
about the reduction in crime. He was just lucky to be in office when it
happened.James Alan Fox is the Lipman
Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University
and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors.
He is co-author of
Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on
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