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The crime rate is down and Donald Trump had nothing to do with it:

James Alan Fox, Opinion columnist
Published 3:15 a.m. ET Sept. 26, 2018
Updated 10:14 a.m. ET Sept. 26, 2018

The crime rate was lower last year than previous years. Donald Trump can't take credit for that. He was just lucky to be in office when it happened.

After two straight years of increasing crime rates, including double-digit jumps in homicide counts, there is reason to breath a bit easier. According to the latest FBI report of Crime in the United States, the nation's toll of serious violent and property offenses dipped in 2017 over the previous year.

As compared with 2016, the violent crime rate per 100,000 population declined by .9 percent, including a 1.4 percent drop in homicide (which would have been a 1.8 percent reduction were it not for the act of one individual last October in Las Vegas). Meanwhile, the decline in property crime was even more pronounced with a 3.6 percent lower rate per 100,000 population.

Thus, the surge in the murder rate, often cited by then-candidate and now-President Donald Trump (aka "Chicken Little") was a short-term phenomenon, as I (aka "Foxy Loxy") predicted on numerous occasions.

This is not to suggest that the two-year spike in murder wasn't real. The increase translated into thousands more Americans losing their lives to violence, especially gun violence. Even so, as in the classic fable, the surge did not mean that the sky was falling, despite the hyperbole and finger-pointing tweets (much directed at leadership in Chicago, the epicenter for the crime spike) coming from the White House.

Trump used a two-year blip to scare Americans
Trump wasn't wrong in claiming that the increases were fairly historic in percentage terms larger than at any time since the early 1970s. However, with the murder rate about half what it was in the early 1990s, the percentage increase would logically be large. In effect, we were the victim of our own successes. Were it not for the steep decline in murder over more than two decades, the spike would not have been discernable.

It is clear that the two-year crime blip, which helped catapult Trump into the Oval Office with his "Make America Scared Again" rhetoric, was not evidence of the "Ferguson Effect" or the result of Mexican criminals entering our country to rape and murder U.S. citizens. Rather, it most likely was consequence of normal fluctuations in crime counts.

Unfortunately, long-term trends in crime statistics are not what drives public perceptions of risk. Most Americans tune out the sterile-sounding numbers published by the FBI and tune in to anecdotal stories about cops shot in the line of duty, school shootings or isolated kidnappings and murders attributed to immigrants. A few high-profile tragedies draw attention away from the hard facts about crime rates.

Most Americans form their perceptions of crime from graphic visuals of crime scenes and aftermaths that they see on TV or online. There are plenty of those no matter how high or low the actual crime rate. That explains why surveys of the public about crime trends often find a significant disconnect between perception and reality.

Trump may try to claim victory for nothing he did
It is true that the most recent shifts in crime are relatively modest, especially compared with what occurred over the past two years. One might wonder whether the improvement is itself an aberration from what could be a growing crime problem that started mid-decade.

Some reassurance comes from early statistics for 2018, suggesting that the downturn should continue. Based on an analysis of part-year crime data from the nation's 30 largest city police departments, the Brennan Center for Justice has projected that 2018 will yield additional declines in homicide and overall crime rates.

The good news about recent crime trends leaves me, however, with one significant worry. My concern is not that crime rates will rebound once again, but that Trump will seize the opportunity to claim victory  boasting that only he could have made this happen, and that we must keep him and his congressional loyalists in power to make sure crime rates stay low.

Notwithstanding Attorney General Jeff Sessions' attempt to credit his boss, nothing that Trump has done brought about the reduction in crime. He was just lucky to be in office when it happened.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors.
He is co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder.  Follow him on Twitter @jamesalanfox.

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