Two Fact Checks on Donald Trump and Crime

In tonight’s speech, Donald Trump will accept the presidential nomination of the Republican party. The text of Trump’s speech makes the following claims regarding crime in the United States:

“These are the facts:

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.

“Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

Let’s look at these two claims and check the facts.

Fact Check of Claim 1: “Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.”

Response: The annual FBI report Crime in the United States provides the most recent data on crime, both in the United States overall and in particular communities. Annual reports are released every fall to describe crime in the year before, based on direct reports of police officers all over the country (the delay occurs because it takes time to gather all those reports and carefully tabulate them). The most recent report was released in 2015, describing crime in the year 2014. Anyone who tells you they know about U.S. national crime trends for any more recent year is fibbing — because 2016 isn’t over yet, and because final counts for 2015 are still being worked on.

The trends on violent and property crime victimization rates in the United States are shown below, from the very first page of the 2015 Crime in the United States report, released at the end of September 2015:

violent and property victimization rates in the United States from 1993 to 2014

People can disagree about policy, but it is not possible for policy changes to have led to a reversal in progress in the crime rate in the United States, because there is no evidence that such a reversal exists.

Fact Check of Claim 2: “Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

We don’t actually know whether this is the case, because final data for 2015 is not yet available. A preliminary count, that is not a final count, that is only for the first six months of 2015, and that is only for cities with over 100,000 in population — has been released. Here it is. Let’s realize, based on this data (look at Table 4), that:

First, we do not yet actually have a final count for 2015.

Second, on the basis that only the first six months of 2015 have been counted, it is not possible to make the conclusion that Donald Trump makes regarding the entire year.

Third, if we actually look at the fifty largest cities in the United States, and look at the preliminary count for the first six months of 2015 (not the entire year), we find that the homicides are up 8.4% in America’s fiftiest largest cities compared to 2014 — Donald Trump’s speech claims twice as much as this.

Fourth, it’s interesting that the speech only focuses on homicide, and not on violent crime in general. The increase in the violent crime rate from 2014 to 2015 is 3.1%.

Fifth, even these rises do not take into account the rise in population of America’s fifty largest cities, increasing the population, which will of course increase the number of murders.

Sixth, even this increase, in the context of the huge falls of the last twenty years, still marks a low crime rate in America’s fifty largest cities in recent history. The preliminary homicide rate in the fifty largest cities of the United States in the first six months of 2015 was 4.06 homicides per 100,000 people. In the first six months of 2015, the overall violent crime rate was 305.7 per 100,000 people. By comparison, in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president and the decline in homicides was already well underway, the homicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000 people in America’s 50 largest cities, and the overall violent crime rate was per 852.9 per 100,000 people. In other words, since Barack Obama became president, if the 2015 preliminary data holds, the homicide rate is down 66.4% and the violent crime rate is down 64.2%.

It turns out that Donald Trump’s claim is based on a post made in very early estimate by a blogger using very early data in January 2016, less than a month after 2015 ended.

This second claim by Republican nominee Donald Trump, like the first, is not supported by the facts.

Convocation Remarks on the University of Maine at Augusta theme for 2014: “Innovation”

Convocation at the University of Maine at Augusta, September 19 2014

UMA Convocation Fall 2014
Framing the Theme – “Innovation”

Good afternoon.  Last spring, the UMA Faculty Colloquium Committee identified a special theme of innovation to reflect the University’s 50th anniversary. The committee asks that every member of the faculty, staff and student body read and reflect upon a book about innovation, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Look for activities throughout the year celebrating UMA’s 50 years of innovation.  As we kick off the year today, I’ve been asked to frame the theme of innovation in a few remarks.

When most of us hear the word “innovation,” we focus on the creation of something new.  But there is more to innovation than newness.  The word “innovation” comes from the Latin innovare, to renew or to make new.  What do we renew?  What do we make new?  Something that was already there.  To innovate is to make something new out of what came before.

To write a “novel” means literally to create a story that is new.  But in the introduction to her novel Frankenstein, a novel of ghastly innovation, author Mary Shelley admits stitching together her story from the science, philosophy and mythology of the day before adding her own animating spark.  “Everything must have a beginning,” Shelley writes, but “that beginning must be linked to something that went before…. Invention does not consist in creating out of void… the materials must, in the first place, be afforded.[i]”  The innovative stories we tell are based on what came before.

Every human being on Earth is a unique innovation, a Frankenstein experiment of sorts, with a genome ripped from our parents and stitched together in a brand new way.  Thanks to mutation, even identical twins don’t have exactly the same set of genes.  But neither is any human being entirely new.  We are variations on the genetic themes set by our parents, and as social scientists know we draw heavily from our environment in fashioning our public selves.  The new, innovative you is based on what came before.

The University of Maine at Augusta is itself an innovation.  Our history tells us that 50 years ago, there was no college or university in Augusta – and when UMA held its first classes on September 12 1965, it had no campus of its own.  Our first classrooms were in Cony High School, set aside for use after school hours; that’s innovative.  Our bookstore was fit into a Cony High School coat closet; that’s innovative[ii].  Even these humble beginnings were not completely new, but based on what came before: an existing school, repurposed and reimagined. In its next 50 years, UMA will rely on already existing strengths as it finds innovative new ways to fulfill its purpose.

And what is that purpose?  What is a university for?  At first glance, it may appear to some that a university is a business selling a product called a diploma to customers called students.  Once purchased, the diploma product can be redeemed by the customer for future economic profit.  Well, it certainly takes money for a person to live and for a university to run.  But is an education just another consumer purchase?  Is a university an assembly-line factory?  Are faculty here to sell?  Are students here to shop?

I think not.  We are here because we share a dream.  We dream of becoming more than we are.  We dream of remaking ourselves, putting parts of our lives that came before together with something new and adding an animating spark.  We know this dream of innovation can come true because we see it happen here every day — for some sooner, for some a bit later.  The poet Adelaide Anne Procter shares a truth we at UMA know well: if we miss our first shot at remaking ourselves a second chance, a third chance will come.  It is never too late.  Procter writes:

“Have we not all, amid life’s petty strife,

Some pure ideal of a noble life

That once seemed possible? Did we not hear

The flutter of its wings, and feel it near,

And just within our reach? It was. And yet

We lost it in this daily jar and fret,

And now live idle in a vague regret;

But still our place is kept, and it will wait,

Ready for us to fill it, soon or late.

No star is ever lost we once have seen,

We always may be what we might have been[iii].”

 

This is the heart of innovation: to draw from what came before, to honor those who inspire your work today, to dream of being more than you are.


[i] Shelley, Mary. 1818.  Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus.  London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor and Jones.

[ii] Brookes, Kenneth. 1977.  The Story of the University of Maine at Augusta: The Jewett Years.  University of Maine at Augusta publication.

[iii] Procter, Adelaide Anne. 1864. “A Legend of Provence” (excerpt).  P. 191 in The Poems of Adelaide A. Procter.  Boston: Ticknor and Fields.