Fact-check: Trump ‘dead wrong’ about the change in murders in Chicago

Trump claimed Chicago has lagged the nation in reducing murders over the last two years. The opposite is true: Chicago’s progress has contributed to and even outpaced the national decline.

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President Donald Trump at McCormick Place on Monday.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order after speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention at McCormick Place on Monday. File Photo.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

During his first visit to Chicago since taking office, President Donald Trump took aim at one of his favorite targets: the city’s violence.

While criticizing Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson for boycotting his speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Monday, Trump again repeated a Pants on Fire! claim about the city having the nation’s strictest gun laws, compared violence in Chicago to Afghanistan — as he has in the past with Baltimore — and contended reductions in crime here are failing to keep pace with those being made nationally.

“Over the last two years, the number of murders in America and America’s major cities has dropped, unlike here, by more than 10%,” Trump said. “And if we ever took the Chicago numbers out of our total numbers, the numbers would be incredible — and they already are, even including Chicago.”

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Nationally, murders have not decreased by quite as much as the president said. What’s more, his Chicago comparison is contradicted by city and federal data. Not only has Chicago seen murders fall by significantly more than 10% in recent years, its decline is rivaled by few other large cities.

Press officers at the White House did not respond to our request for comment.

Chicago taking a lead, not falling behind

Chicago has seen 27% fewer murders so far this year than it had at this time two years ago, Chicago Police Department data for mid-October show.

Preliminary federal data for 2019 is not yet available, however, so we compared the latest federal datafrom 2018 — with figures for 2016. That’s the year Johnson became the city’s top cop. It’s also a year that saw a significant spike in Chicago murders, ending with 765 in all, a total greater than the tallies for New York City and Los Angeles combined.

Those figures, which are reported by local law enforcement agencies to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, show Trump missed the mark on multiple counts.

First, the number of murders reported nationwide for 2018 was 6.9% lower than it was in 2016 — not more than 10%, as he claimed.

President Donald Trump speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention at McCormick Place in 2019.

President Donald Trump speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention at McCormick Place on Monday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Second, the declines experienced by Chicago during the same period — from 765 murders to 563 —was larger than those seen in all but three of the nation’s 30 largest cities: San Antonio, San Diego and San Jose.

It’s a turnaround that’s garnered considerable news coverage over the past two years. In 2018, for instance, the Chicago Sun-Times reviewed FBI data for the previous year and found Chicago alone accounted for 86 percent of the net decrease from 2016 in murders nationally.

That marked decline is also something Johnson turned to in defense when responding to Trump’s attack.

“The president is right about one thing: Violent crime in the United States declined last year for the second consecutive year,” Johnson said at a news conference Monday. “But it was Chicago that set the table for those reductions.”

Ames Grawert, who leads the quantitative research team at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, said although Chicago’s per capita murder rate is still more than four times higher than the national average, the city has made considerable progress in recent years — something Trump’s comments ignore.

“He’s dead wrong on Chicago,” Grawert said. “The city’s gotten a lot safer in the past two years and it’s not right to say Chicago’s lagging the national trend. … It’s one of the cities that’s led the downward trend of the last two years.”

Our ruling

Referring to Chicago, Trump said that “over the last two years, the number of murders in America and America’s major cities has dropped, unlike here, by more than 10%.”

Chicago has seen a nearly 30% decrease in murders over the past several years. That well outpaces the national decline of just under 7%. Rather than holding the nation back, as Trump suggested, Chicago’s progress has contributed to the national decline in violent crime.

We rate Trump’s claim Pants on Fire!

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PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

TheBetter Government AssociationrunsPolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all ofthe PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.

Sources

YouTube livestream, President Donald Trump’s address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Oct. 28, 2019

Holly Morris, spokesperson for the FBI, Oct. 29, 2019

Crime in the United States for 1999-2018, FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program, accessed Oct. 28, 2019

Offenses known to law enforcement by state and city for 2018, FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program, accessed Oct. 28, 2019

Offenses known to law enforcement by state and city for 2016, FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program, accessed Oct. 28, 2019

“Murder Rate Drops Across U.S., but Not in All Large Cities,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2019

“FBI: Drop in murders in Chicago accounts for more than half of national decline,” Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 30, 2018

YouTube video, Supt. Eddie Johnson news conference, Oct. 28, 2019

Phone interview: Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, Oct. 29, 2019

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