Rantz: Is crime truly declining? Axios editorial is little more than Democrat politicking

Apr 16, 2024, 5:00 PM | Updated: 6:15 pm

Photo: Police clean up a resurgence of CHOP in Seattle....

Police clean up a resurgence of CHOP in Seattle. A recent Axios editorial, reports crime going down in the city. (Photo: Jason Rantz, KTTH)

(Photo: Jason Rantz, KTTH)

Is crime really going down nationwide? Based on a new article from Axios, the answer is enthusiastically “Yes!” But the article brings a mix of optimism and obfuscation to the national conversation on crime — particularly homicides. And as is almost always the case with transparently political articles, the report is more about helping Democrats overcome an election issue hurdle than providing you with the context that’s most important.

Using data from AH Datalytics, justice and race reporter Russell Contreras said murders declined by nearly 20% in the 204 cities reviewed during the first quarter of 2024, compared to the same period in 2023. Citing FBI data, he said the country has seen a steady decline in overall crime since 2022. All the data is framed around former President Donald Trump and Republicans using crime, especially as it relates to illegal immigration, to convince voters to reject President Joe Biden and Democrats in November. Contreras argued the crime data actually benefits Democrats, not Republicans.

While it’s heartening to see a decline in murder rates, the analysis offered fails to explain why these shifts are happening, presenting a skewed narrative that serves political ends more than public understanding. The data is not merely incomplete but it actually hurts Democrats. It’s likely why so much is missing from the report.

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Is crime really going down?

Yes, Axios reported a significant drop in homicides across major cities, suggesting we might be returning to the low crime rates of 2014. That’s obviously a good thing. But here’s what’s conspicuously absent: an explanation of why these specific numbers are down.

The article chooses to skip the critical shift back to more traditional policing and incarceration policies in many areas that had previously seen spikes during the peak of anti-police sentiment fueled by Black Lives Matter-era (BLM) policies.

After police defunding and prosecutorial decisions not to charge, in addition to local decisions not to book suspects in jail, crime skyrocketed. This was an obvious cause of the crime spike. When you keep criminals out of jail and de-police, crime goes up.

When those BLM-era policies were reversed, in part or completely, the crime started to slowly subside. And when comparing the new positive stats, courtesy of a return to policing and jailing, to historic highs thanks to de-policing and a lack of incarceration, of course, the numbers will look better.

A look at specific cities

After reaching a 20-year high in homicides in 2023, Washington D.C. has started to see a turnaround. Axios pointed to a 25% reduction in homicides.

But this isn’t because criminals have suddenly decided to reform en masse. Rather, it’s a result of a renewed focus on effective law enforcement strategies.

For example, the D.C. Council passed a massive crime bill reversing many of the policies they previously put in place. They revived an anti-loitering law that created drug-free zones and created a new category for organized retail theft. It even provides judges with the authority to keep suspects in jail when they’re charged with violent crimes, including minors.

Similarly, Philadelphia saw a 37% decrease in homicides as highlighted in the Axios piece. How did they see such positive change? Increased policing in the four districts and around North Philadelphia — where much of the crime was happening.

“I think being able to redeploy personnel,” Commissioner John Stanford told ABC News. “We pulled people out of administrative positions, put them out on the street, every class that came out of police academy in 2023 were sent out to those four core districts.”

Such changes are occurring in various cities that previously embraced Democrat soft-on-crime legislation and strategies. This isn’t mentioned in the Axios piece likely because it would harm Democrats, which is counter to its intent.

Good news, but…

Another misleading element is the timeframe Axios uses for comparison. It’s hard to tell if this is intentional when discussing if crime is really going down.

Analyzing crime rates year over year from a period that recorded historic highs can present a distorted view. Naturally, following an unprecedented peak, there’s likely to be a decline. Seattle, for example, experienced a historic number of homicides in 2023. That’s unlikely to happen again, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re back to pre-BLM stats. It would help view Axios as reporting in good faith if they made mention of this crucial detail.

The real question, which the article doesn’t address, is whether this decrease represents a true shift in trends or merely a statistical blip. We should hope for the latter, as it’ll continue to show rejection of the BLM policies is what put cities on the right path.

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Seasonal variations in crime rates

There’s nothing inherently wrong with reviewing Q1 data, so long as it comes with context.

Pointing to early-year statistics to suggest a trend in decreasing crime rates is problematic. Crime, particularly violent crime including homicide, mass shootings and rape, tends to escalate in the summer months, according to numerous studies.

Thus, a report in April saying things are looking up does not provide a full picture. It’s akin to declaring victory in a marathon after running the first few miles. If you combine this fact with an unwillingness to credit BLM reversal with the declining numbers, you risk partisan, bad-faith activists bullying lawmakers to return to their favored policies and the public won’t know why and how to push back.

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FBI crime data has integrity problems

Axios relies on FBI data to make some of its conclusions. But FBI data is missing a huge chunk of data.

Participation in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program is entirely voluntary. That means, based on how many agencies don’t report, including the New York Police Department and Los Angeles Police Departments (the nation’s largest), the stats are shockingly unreliable. Indeed, crime data from 2022 was missing reports from some 6,000 law enforcement agencies.

Confusing matters more, the FBI changed the system for reporting agencies in 2021, and many agencies didn’t report their data in the new way.

The lack of complete data can significantly affect the accuracy of crime trend analysis but Axios doesn’t make mention of it.

Moreover, the article does not delve into quality-of-life crimes, which vary significantly between different locales and can impact the overall sense of safety and community well-being. Another example: thanks to a ban on police pursuits and the ability of police to question minor suspects without a lawyer, Washington state has experienced a unique surge in stolen cars and other non-violent felony crimes (with stolen cars) and juvenile crime.

It’s politics when discussing crime data

Axios attempts to link reduced homicide rates to a broader political narrative, particularly in the context of former President Trump’s focus on crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

On the campaign trail, Trump has called out “Biden’s border bloodbath” following high-profile crimes allegedly committed by illegal immigrants. Those include the murder of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley and the death of Washington State Patrol trooper Christopher Gadd.

Rather than point out the obvious, that crimes committed by people in this country illegally wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t here illegally, Axios makes a simplistic connection that helps Democrats avoid responsibility for the porous border.

The truth about crime

We don’t need an oversimplified, politically convenient narrative around crime. It should be robust, and perhaps even nuanced.

This involves acknowledging the successes and failures of various policy approaches favored by Democrats and Republicans respectively, the progressive Black Lives Matter movement that influenced crime, and the real-life implications of law enforcement strategies that actually include allowing police to police. Without this context, we end up making policy decisions based on incomplete or misleading data that favors progressive arguments around the criminal justice system that they openly say must be dismantled and abolished.

It’s encouraging to see a reduction in homicides. We should want it to continue. And it’s also important to have a deeper and more honest examination if we want to keep the numbers on a downward trajectory. Understanding the “why” behind these trends helps lawmakers craft policies that truly work and can be sustained. But doing this wouldn’t help Democrats ahead of the election, so it appears Axios took a pass at this opportunity.

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Rantz: Is crime truly declining? Axios editorial is little more than Democrat politicking