Anyone who has been dispassionately following crime trends over the past couple of years will have noticed a curious pattern: Despite clear evidence that homicide rates surged in the last twelve months, in what is quite likely the biggest single-year spike in a generation, many journalists and number crunchers seem determined to communicate to their readers that there is nothing unusual going on—that crime rates remain at historic lows, and that any talk of “rising crime” is demagoguery intended to smear racial justice protestors and torpedo criminal justice reform.
Over at the American Enterprise Institute, Sean Kennedy highlights a particularly egregious example this phenomenon. This time, the offender is Politifact, the supposedly-neutral fact-checker that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for “separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters”:
But there is a big problem with their conclusion: Politifact just stopped looking at data in 2014. […]
We decided to take a look at local agency data for 2016 and compare it to 2014 and 2015 data. In short, overall violent crime in most major US cities, especially homicide, is up substantially since 2014.
To be sure, violent crime rates are low by historical standards, despite the latest dramatic increase, and the media should not exaggerate the situation or needlessly drum up hysteria. But neither should it massage data to play down what is a genuinely alarming trend. Much of the mainstream media coverage (and administration pronouncements) surrounding this issue seems unmistakably designed to spin a narrative, rather than report the facts.
As Kennedy notes, the public is not convinced. Americans are more concerned about crime and violence than they have been in 15 years. Just as with radical Islamic terrorism, efforts by authority figures to tamp down fears by denying they are legitimate will almost certainly backfire.