MANHATTAN (CN) — Before invoking “American carnage” at his inauguration, President Donald Trump often likened U.S. cities to war-torn Afghanistan. His attorney general Jeff Sessions later described rising crime as a “dangerous permanent trend” in the nation.
Confirming what many critics noted at the time, however, the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice reported Wednesday that such urban scaremongering holds little water.
Relying on police data from the top 30 largest U.S. cities, “Crime in 2017: A Preliminary Analysis” projects that the U.S. crime rate will dip by 1.8 percent this year if current trends hold, reaching its second-lowest level since 1990.
“These findings directly undercut any claim that the nation is experiencing a crime wave,” the 15-page report by Ames Grawert and James Cullen states.
It was the Brennan Center’s own data showing slight upticks in murder and violent crime from 2015 and 2016 that the White House cherry-picked to paint a portrait of crime-ridden U.S. cities.
In responding to the outfit’s latest report, an official with Justice Department reached back to these numbers again.
“Far from being a slight increase, the 3.1 percent increase in violent crime nationwide in 2015 was the largest single-year increase since 1991,” the official said. “Preliminary data projects an even greater increase in 2016, resulting in two consecutive years of overall violent crime increasing at record rates compared with the past quarter of a century.”
Declining to give his name for the record, the official cited internal Justice Department policies for authorization. He called the nearly 11 percent rise that the United States saw in total homicides in 2015 “the largest single-year increase in nearly half a century.”
“Preliminary numbers for 2016 indicate that murders continued to increase at alarming rates in 2016,” he added.
But the Brennan Center notes that “overall crime rates remained stable” during these years.
“Now, in 2017, crime and murder are projected to decline again,” the report says.
Disputing this analysis, the Justice Department official said there are no concrete nationwide numbers, “preliminary or otherwise, for 2017.”
Four days after taking office, Trump threatened to “send in the feds” to Chicago, regularly invoking Windy City violence in terms critics described as racist dog whistles.
Ironically, researchers now credit stabilizing crime rates in that city for improving national trends overall.
“This result is driven primarily by stabilization in Chicago and declines in Washington, D.C., two large cities that experienced increases in violence in recent years,” the report states. “The violent crime rate for this year is projected to be the second lowest since 1990 — about 1 percent above 2014’s violent crime rate.”
That includes murder in Chicago, where rates are projected to fall by 2.4 percent this year.
“The 2017 murder rate is projected to be 2.5 percent lower than last year,” the researchers found. “This year’s decline is driven primarily by decreases in Detroit (down 25.6 percent), Houston (down 20.5 percent), and New York (down 19.1 percent).” (Parentheses in original.)
Trump’s Justice Department is ready to take credit for the dip.
“If violent crime and murders have indeed stabilized and decreased under the leadership of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, then it will be good news for the country and further demonstrate that sending a strong message to criminals that we will enforce the law makes Americans safer in their communities,” said the Justice Department official who declined to give his name for this article.
The Brennan Center’s report also highlights, however, how the administration can play both sides of the argument by pulling trouble spots out of context.
“While crime is down this year, some cities are projected to experience localized increases,” the report states. “For example, Charlotte’s murder rate doubled in the first six months of 2017 relative to last year.”
The Brennan Center’s report includes charts and tables illustrating what has been a decades-long and steady decrease.