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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani delivered a fiery speech at the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Analysis

Rhetoric and Reality at the RNC

Does America need to be made safe again? We fact-checked a handful of last night’s claims.

“Make America Safe Again” was the theme of the opening night of the 2016 Republican National Convention on Monday, and the program was full of speakers promoting a handful of ideas now associated with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump: crime is rising, police are under assault, and Americans are afraid.

The truth, as always, is a bit more complicated. We fact-checked a handful of the claims made by the speakers:

“...our police officers, who are being targeted, with a target on their back.” - Rudy Giuliani

The phrase ‘Obama’s War on Cops’ has been a favorite Republican talking point in recent months, amplified by the recent atrocities in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Proponents often cite the rise in killings of police officers between 2013 and 2014. What’s missing from that number is the fact that 2013 was a record-low year, with the fewest killings of police in a half-century of recorded data. In fact, police killings have declined steadily since the 70s, with the two safest years for cops both occurring under Obama.

Killings of Police, 1961-2015
The FBI tracks “felonious killings” of police, in which officers are killed by injuries suffered in the line of duty, not including accidental deaths. Preliminary data for last year counted 41 such killings, a number higher only than the 27 that occurred in 2013.
“Neighborhoods have become more violent under your watch.” - U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, of Colorado, addressing President Obama

We won’t know the national crime statistics for last year until the FBI releases them in the fall. Since Obama was sworn into office in 2009, rates of violent crimes reported to police have been on the decline, as part of a long downward trend that began in the early 1990s. The violent crime rate in 2014 was less than half what it was at its peak in 1991.

An FBI report of preliminary crime figures for the first six months of 2015 showed a slight uptick in reported violent crimes—like murder, robbery, and sexual assault—of 1.7 percent over the same period in the previous year. According to the Associated Press, criminologists and law enforcement leaders have not yet been able to account for why a rise in murders has hit certain cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, but not others like Miami and Detroit.

“68,000 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions released in 2013.”

Violent crime committed by “illegal aliens” was a major focus of last night’s speeches, though research suggests that immigrants (both legal and undocumented) are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Three parents and two siblings spoke of their loved ones who were killed by undocumented immigrants. (For more background, Buzzfeed did a thorough profile of this group of parents in November.) “We need to secure our borders so no other person has to go through this kind of grief, pain and agony knowing this could have been prevented,” said Sabine Durden, whose son Dominic was killed in a traffic collision by an undocumented driver with a history of DUI’s in 2012.

Commentary

Original analysis and perspectives from across the spectrum on criminal justice

The 68,000 figure has been a frequent headline in conservative news outlets as a sign of weak immigration enforcement under the Obama administration. But the number is so broad, it doesn’t reveal much of anything. It represents the total number of immigrants with any kind of criminal conviction on their record, other than civil traffic violations, who came into contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2013 and, for whatever reason, were not processed for deportation. It includes immigrants who are here both legally and illegally. It includes people convicted of serious crimes, like murder and rape, and those convicted of minor misdemeanors or whose only crime was crossing the border. It also includes people who weren’t even eligible for deportation under current immigration law.

There is another group of both legal and undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions — 36,007 in FY2013 — who were in deportation proceedings and were released from ICE custody. Some of them were released on bond pending a final decision. Some were issued a final order of deportation, but couldn’t be deported because their home country refused to take them. And a 2001 Supreme Court decision found that ICE could not detain such immigrants indefinitely. A recent Boston Globe investigation, that tracked 323 such releases in New England between 2008 and 2012, found that roughly 30 percent went on to commit a new crime, though they did not break it down by the type of offense.

“A recent Gallup poll confirms it: more than half of all Americans now worry a great deal about crime and violence, up consistently and dramatically from a few years ago, and for African-Americans, that number is 70 percent.” - David Clarke “Sadly, for a growing number of communities, the sense of safety that many of us once took for granted has been shattered.” - David Clarke “The vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe.” - Rudy Giuliani

A March 2016 Gallup poll asking how much Americans worry about crime and violence showed 53 percent of respondents — and 68 percent of “nonwhites” — said they worry a “great deal,” an uptick compared to 43 percent in 2015, 47 percent in 2013 and 42 percent in 2012.

But much depends on how you ask the question. In a 2015 survey, Gallup found that 59 percent of respondents considered crime “extremely” or “very” serious in America as a whole, but only 12 percent expressed the same level of concern when asked about “the area where you live.” And last month, asked an open-ended question about “the most important problem” facing the nation, only 3 percent identified crime and violence. Back in 1996, at the height of crime fears, 37 percent put crime at the top of their list.

“I know we can [make Americans safe] because I did it by changing New York City from the crime capital of America to the safest large city in the United States.” - Rudy Giuliani

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has made similar claims in the past, and in 2007, PolitiFact described such statements as true. Such “big claims,” the website said, “come with big caveats”: violent crime in the city began falling three years before Giuliani entered office in 1994, and the numbers fell all over the country, particularly in big cities, and more in San Francisco than in New York. Criminologists have cited demographics and an improved economy as major factors, though they also credit policing programs like “broken windows,” stop-and-frisk, and focusing on “hot spots,” all of which expanded under Giuliani’s watch.