Trump capitalizing on fears over crime

Trump capitalizing on fears over crime
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Americans are more afraid of violent crime today than they have been at any time since before the September 11 terror attacks — even as long-term trends suggest the United States is a safer place to live.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE is capitalizing on the fears, and made law and order a central part of his speech Thursday night accepting the GOP presidential nomination.

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“The first task for our new Administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities,” Trump said in an address that included statistics pointing to rising crime in several U.S. cities.

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

It’s not clear where Trump’s statistics come from, though preliminary data for 2015 shows a 1.7 increase in violent crime from 2014 to 2015.

The western regions of the country saw the greatest increase — over 5 percent — while the Northeast actually saw violent crime drop by 3 percent.

There was also an increase in murders in major metropolitan areas across the U.S. in the beginning of 2016 — a 9 percent spike on average — according to data released in May by the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.

“Something is happening,” FBI Director James B. Comey said at the time.

But Trump’s claim that killings have risen by 50 percent in D.C. and 60 percent in Baltimore isn’t accurate, according to police department data from both cities. To date in D.C., homicides are actually down 9 percent from 2015. In Baltimore, they’re down about 13 percent.

The Hill reached out to Trump’s campaign but did not receive a response. The origin of his statistics remains unclear.  

Around two dozen cities saw an increase in homicides in the first quarter of 2016, but in over 40 others murders either declined or remained static.

The long-term trend is a drop in violent crime. It has been sliced almost in half since it peaked in the 1990s.

As recently as 2014, the most recent year for which the FBI has released complete data, the violent crime total was still dropping — 7 percent from 2010 and 16 percent from 2005.

“There is definitely no uptick” in violent crime, said Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo, an associate professor of criminal justice at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.

“If anything is happening, it’s the flattening of the downturn.”

Polls show public concern about crime is at a 15-year high.

Over half of Americans say they worry "a great deal" about crime and violence — more than say they worry about a terrorist attack. At 53 percent, it’s a 14-point rise since 2014 and the highest figure Gallup has recorded since spring of 2001.

Concern levels have exploded in Americans across the board. Although low-income individuals reported more anxiety than high-income individuals and non-whites more than whites, only one group remained essentially immune: college graduates.

It’s easy to understand why fears might have increased.

A spate of high-profile shootings of black men by police officers and the assassination of eight police officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, La., shook the country.

Americans have also been unnerved by the terrorist attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino, Calif.

“Americans' perceptions of crime are not always on par with reality,” notes Gallup in an October poll that showed seven in 10 Americans believed crime was rising, even though few had been the victim of a crime.

“News media reports probably have more of an effect on Americans' perceptions of crime in the U.S. than their personal experience with crime,” according to Gallup.

All of this suggests the law and order theme espoused by Trump could have some potency as a political issue. 

With “Make America Safe Again,” Republican strategists say, Trump is tapping into a specific, widespread anxiety in the same way that he successfully leveraged trade and immigration concerns earlier in the year.

“It’s one of his strengths,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiack said. “He understands where the average person is, how they’re processing information, how they’re reacting to things, how they’re feeling. He’s making a much better emotional connection [than Democratic rival Clinton].”

President Obama has pushed back at suggestions that violent crime is rising on his watch.

“Although it is true that we've seen an uptick in murders and violent crime in some cities this year, the fact of the matter is that the murder rate today, the violence rate today is far lower than it was when Ronald Reagan was president and lower than when I took office," Obama said Friday.