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Trump Misleads About Crime and Public Safety, Again

The former president took the stage at CPAC to paint a bleak and highly misleading portrait of crime and public safety.

Closing out the Conservative Political Action Conference today, former President Donald Trump said that President Biden had presided over a spike in “bloodshed, chaos, and violent crime.” The former president is misleading the American public about current crime trends.

Here are the facts on crime. Starting in the early 1990s, crime dropped rapidly in the United States. The causes were complex — owing much to improving economic conditions and innovations in policing strategy. Following a decades-long decline, violent crime rose during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, President Trump’s last year in office, murder rates climbed by nearly 30 percent and assault rates by more than 10 percent.

Here, too, the reasons are complex, but may have much to do with the pandemic. Covid-19 proved to be a generational disruptor in America, instigating social and economic hardships at all levels of society. For example, the country saw an economic decline and increases in unemployment due to businesses that were negatively impacted by shutdowns. We saw a surge in firearm ownership and shooting incidents, at least in the cities that track this data. It was also a period of tremendous isolation. After-school programs and other critical services and interventions that cities relied on to confront violence were shut down.

But since 2021, violent crime has started to fall. According to the FBI, as of 2022 violent crime rates had fallen by 4 percent and murder rates by roughly 7 percent since 2020. Preliminary data suggests those declines accelerated in 2023.

In his Saturday speech to conservatives, Trump also spoke a good deal about an immigration crisis in America, making misleading statements about what he referred to as migrant crime and noting it will be “far more deadly than anyone thought.” Here, again, the former president was not truthful. There is no evidence of a migrant crime wave, including in New York City, which the former president referred to in his remarks today. To the contrary, statistics indicate that there has been no surge in crime since April 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began bussing migrants to New York. Additionally, research reveals that undocumented immigration is associated with a decrease in property crime and additional research finds that Fentanyl is primarily trafficked by U.S. citizens.

Although violent crime appears to be receding across the nation, the American public is not fully aware of this trend. Most Americans believe that crime is rising, including 78 percent of independent voters. This gap between crime and perceptions of crime is not new — it’s a decades-long trend. Gallup routinely asks voters whether they believe crime is higher or lower than the previous year. Even in the midst of the decades-long decline in crime, between 1990 and the mid-2010s, Gallup records only two years when a majority of voters did not believe crime had risen.

Although the reasons why crime increases and decreases are complicated, we know that various social, economic, and environmental factors, such as growth in income and an aging population, are significant drivers of crime rates. We also know that investing in our communities through funding after school programming, anti-violence initiatives, and safe “third places” — like parks and community centers — helps build long-term safety.

Creating thriving and safe communities are goals we can all embrace. But misleading the American public about the truth and distorting reality is not the way to deliver public safety.