Pinocchios for Mitt and Rudy
"Murder went up when [Romney] was governor [of Massachusetts]. Robbery went up. Violent crimes went up."--Rudy Giuliani, quoted in Washington Post, November 26, 2007.
"He ([Giuliani] has got a real problem checking facts."
--Mitt Romney, quoted in the same article.
This is not the first time the two front-runners for the Republican nomination have got into a statistical fist fight. Last month, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney gave very different descriptions of their respective economic records as mayor of New York and governor of Massachusetts. As the primary campaign heats up, they have extended the dispute into the criminal justice field. Giuliani repeated his assault on Romney at various stops on the campaign trail, including interviews with the Washington Post and the Associated Press. A look at the evidence suggests that both candidates are cherry-picking the data to suit their argument.
National crime statistics are notoriously unreliable. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than half the crimes that take place around the country get reported to the authorities. Each locality and state reports its own data to the FBI--and comparisons are dangerous. Year to year trends for rarer crimes, such as murder, should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.
The FBI lumps together various different crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, under the heading of "violent crime." FBI records show that the violent crime rate in Massachusetts declined modestly between 2002 and 2006 from 484 incidents to 447 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants. So Giuliani is wrong on that score. (Romney took office at the beginning of 2003 and left at the beginning of 2007.)
In rebutting Giuliani, the Romney campaign conveniently omitted the data for robberies and murders in Massachusetts, which showed a modest increase over the same period. The robbery rate in the state rose from 111 per 100,000 in 2002 to 125 in 2006. The murder rate rose from 2.3 in 2002 to 2.9 in 2006, according to the FBI figures. It is difficult to know how much should be read into the murder figures, however, as the total numbers were quite low: 173 in 2002 compared to 186 in 2006.
The crime trends in Massachusetts reflect what was happening nationally over the last decade, according to Sean Varano, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston. "The crime figures were largely static during the Romney administration," said Varano. "The fluctuation from the national trend is very small."
During his four years as governor, Romney was criticized for cutting financial aid to local communities, which resulted in cuts to police departments around the state. But this too was part of a national trend following the September 2001 terrorist attacks, according to Varano, as funds were switched from fighting crime to fighting terrorism.
The Pinocchio Test
According to Jason Miller, a spokesman for the Giuliani campaign, the mayor was referring to murders and robberies when he claimed that "violent crimes" had risen in Massachusetts under Romney. But the FBI has a much broader definition of "violent crimes" than simply robberies and murders, and it is their definition that counts. I am prepared to concede that Giuliani may have been confused, but he needs to do a better job checking his facts before opening his mouth. Two Pinocchios for him.
One Pinocchio for Romney for selective use of statistics.(About our rating scale.)
| November 27, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: 1 Pinocchio, 2 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Social Issues
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