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Legal Learning: Bad facts make for bad policy

We've been hearing a lot lately about the crime wave sweeping America. According to President Donald Trump drugs "pour in at a now unprecedented rate" across our borders, and "criminal cartels have spread across our nation." Trump pledged to stop the country's "terrible drug epidemic," return order to our "neglected inner cities" and address "an environment of lawless chaos."

In Trump's inaugural address, he referred to "American carnage." He falsely told a group of sheriffs in February that the homicide rate is "the highest it's been in 47 years." If he were talking about Chicago, he would be right, but for the entire country? It's exactly the opposite.

Nationally, crime is at the bottom of a 25-year downward trend, less than half of what it was in 1991. Last year, rates of overall crime fell for the 14th year in a row. The national homicide rate remains at about 2009 levels — at nearly half of the 1991 peak. Today's overall crime rate is 2,857 offenses per 100,000 people, compared to 5,856 per 100,000 in 1991. Violent crime is now 366 per 100,000 people, compared to 716 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 1991.

The president's attempt to connect immigration to rising crime is also dishonest. Research has consistently demonstrated that immigrants, regardless of their country of origin, are less likely to commit violent crimes than American-born citizens.

According to the Pew Research Center, "despite double-digit percentage decreases in U.S. violent and property crime rates since 2008, most voters say crime has gotten worse during that span." Leading up to Election Day last fall, a majority (57 percent) of those who had voted or planned to vote said crime has gotten worse in this country since 2008. Almost 8-in-10 voters who supported Trump (78 percent) said this, as did 37 percent of backers of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Just 5 percent of pro-Trump voters and a quarter of Clinton supporters said crime has gotten better since 2008, according to the survey of 3,788 adults conducted Oct. 25-Nov. 8. Yet actual FBI statistics show big decreases in violent and property crime rates since the early 1990s.

How about here at home? According to CityRating.com, Two Harbors crime statistics show an overall downward trend in crime based on data from seven years, with violent crime increasing and property crime decreasing. Based on this trend, the crime rate in Two Harbors for 2017 is expected to be lower than in 2012. The city violent crime rate for Two Harbors in 2012 was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 100 percent and the city property crime rate in Two Harbors was lower than the national property crime rate average by 85.09 percent.

It's the same in Duluth. Crime statistics for Duluth report an overall downward trend in crime based on data from 12 years, with both violent crime and property crime decreasing. Based on this trend, the crime rate in Duluth for 2017 is expected to be lower than in 2012. The city violent crime rate for Duluth in 2012 was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 9.21 percent and the city property crime rate in Duluth was higher than the national property crime rate average by 57.69 percent.

In Silver Bay, violent crime has decreased but property crime has increased over the last four years. Based on this trend, the crime rate in Silver Bay for 2017 is expected by CityRating.com to be higher than in 2012. Even so, the violent crime rate for Silver Bay in 2012 was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 72.69 percent and the city property crime rate in Silver Bay was lower than the national property crime rate average by 83.37 percent.

It would seem that Trump's border wall, travel ban, and renewed drug war are all based on an attempt to cause fear rather than on actual statistics. Fear sells, and bad facts make for bad policy.

James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota's Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills, and probate in and around Lake County, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and are not to be attributed to his employer.

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