Scare stories about crime have been a staple of Republican campaign ads for decades. This year is the worst I’ve ever seen. That’s a big part of the reason that fear of crime is rising, even when crime is not.
In Minnesota, lying Republican ads attack Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Even Fox News, never a Democratic partisan, calls one of the Republican ads a “five-alarm falsehood.”
Finding facts about crime rates is complicated. The most reliable numbers come from FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics reports. Even these two sources are incomplete, though they are the best we have. FBI statistics rely on voluntary reporting by local police departments. Complicating matters further, the FBI just changed some of the ways it compiles reports.
With that caveat, the official numbers and reports are still 100 percent more reliable than political attack ads or “gut feelings” about crime. I’ve been reading and collecting news reports, and this post is a brief summary, with links to articles that I found most informative.
How Much Crime?
Overall, violent crime dropped dramatically from the 1990s through the mid-2010s, all across the country. Two national measures of crime come up with slightly different estimates of what has happened since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics show no change in violent crime from 2020 to 2021.
“In 2021, the most recent year with available data, there were 16.5 violent crimes for every 1,000 Americans ages 12 and older. That was statistically unchanged from the year before, below pre-pandemic levels and far below the rates recorded in the 1990s, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.” [Pew Research Center]
The FBI reported a slight increase in violent crime from 2019 to 2020—less than six percent. Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, the FBI found no increase in overall violent crime figures from 2020 to 2021.
While overall violent crime did not increase, one type of violent crime did rise: murder.
“Both the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a roughly 30% increase in the U.S. murder rate between 2019 and 2020, marking one of the largest year-over-year increases ever recorded. The FBI’s latest data, as well as provisional data from the CDC, suggest that murders continued to rise in 2021.
Despite the increase in the nation’s murder rate in 2020, the rate remained well below past highs, and murder remains the least common type of violent crime overall.” [Pew Research Center]
But that increase in murders seems to have reversed in 2022.
“Murders in major cities have fallen by 4 percent so far in 2022, compared with the same period in 2021. Shootings nationwide have fallen 2 percent. The decreases are not enough to undo the large increases in 2020 and 2021; the murder rate is still 30 percent above its 2019 level. But the spike appears to have peaked last year.” [New York Times]
In Minneapolis, gun violence in general seems to be dropping again in 2022, and so does the number of homicides. Across the country, property crimes seem to be rising in 2022. But NONE of the statistics or reports show anything like the huge percent increase in crime that some lying political advertising claims.
Red vs. Blue, Rural vs. Urban
Crime happens everywhere, not just in big cities and states with Democratic elected officials. Oklahoma, for example, has a murder rate almost double that of New York.
A few large cities have seen big increases in murders over the past two years. Overall, however, red states have higher murder rates than blue states. Some big cities have very low murder rates and some have higher rates. The highest per capita murder rate in the country is in Mississippi with 20.50 murders per 100,000 residents in 2020, followed by Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, and Missouri. New York and California didn’t even make the top 10. (With 2.69 murders per 100,000 residents, Minnesota had the seventh-lowest murder rate in the country.)
Why do people believe that big cities are more dangerous than rural areas? One explanation: crime in big cities is just more visible. “You may be less likely to be victim of a crime in New York City,” writes Justin Fox in Bloomberg News, “but you’re more likely to witness one. In dense urban environments you simply see a lot more of what’s going on, for good and ill.”
Even if you don’t live in a big city, television portrayals of crime show dangerous big cities: think FBI, NCIS, CSI and all the rest. Add to that the barrage of political propaganda, and you have a recipe for deception.
One More Lie: Defunding Police Is Just Not Happening
Contrary to the political scare stories, most police departments, including Minneapolis, are getting more, not less, money each year. In a fact check, Fox 9 News said the Republican ads about Governor Walz defunding the police is “a five-alarm falsehood.” Fox News is not exactly a Democratic mouthpiece.