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A stake through the heart will kill a vampire. A silver bullet can stop a werewolf. But no known substance, it seems, can stop the monstrous notion that Phoenix has the second-highest kidnapping rate in the world -- an eye-popping claim that has more lives than even disco music.
The latest conservative to parrot this line is State Rep. Courtney Combs, a Republican from Butler County and the Ohio lawmaker most involved in the debate over illegal immigration.
Combs, who is drafting legislation to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Ohio, appeared July 16 at the City Club in Cleveland to take part in a discussion on illegal immigration.
Halfway through the program, after detailing a spring trip to Cochise County, Arizona, to see the impact of illegal immigration, Combs said "Phoenix, Ariz., is the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world" to underscore how dangerous the state has become.
Combs is far from alone in making this kind of claim.
U.S. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said something similar Aug. 1 on CBS News' Face the Nation. He said Phoenix is "called the kidnapping capital of the United States because the illegal immigrants who are brought to Phoenix for distribution throughout the country are held in drop houses, and they are mistreated, horribly treated."
The claim has been checked several times by PolitiFact.
Rhode Island talk show host Helen Glover called Phoenix the kidnapping capital of the Western Hemisphere July 9, Sen. John McCain pushed the Phoenix as No. 2 kidnapping capital stat on "Meet the Press" June 27, and Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made the Phoenix as No. 2 claim June 18.
It's been repeated so much by conservatives that Rachel Maddow poked fun at the repeated GOP mistake, saying "it's like its just too good a talking point to stop using even though its not true." She made the quip Aug. 2 in a segment of her MSNBC show dedicated to myths about illegal immigration.
In fact, Combs said he made the assertion because he heard McCain say it "on one of those talk shows" as well as being told by Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever during Combs' fact-finding foray to Arizona.
"I was quoting from what I thought were reliable sources," said Combs. "When I heard it from John McCain who is a US Senator from Arizona, I presumed he knew what he was talking about."
PolitiFact found that, in a nutshell, the story goes back an ABC News report from Feb. 11, 2009: "Phoenix, Ariz., has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City and over 370 cases last year alone."
However, ABC never said how the kidnapping ranking was reached. Also, while ABC’s story specifies the number of kidnappings that have occurred in Phoenix since 2008, it doesn’t say how many kidnappings were reported in other cities. And ABC has yet to provide us with supporting evidence, although we first published an item on this back in June.
Neither the FBI nor the U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice that serves as the United States' representative to Interpol, could confirm that Phoenix has the second-highest frequency of kidnapping cases worldwide. It's simply not tracked.
But overseas kidnapping experts say that cities in Mexico and Latin America see significantly more kidnapping cases than Phoenix. The experts list Mexico City; Caracas, Venezuela; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; San Salvador, El Salvador; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Bogota, Columbia as places with probable higher kidnapping rates than Phoenix.
Meanwhile, there are also problems that many places don't keep kidnapping data, kidnappings in places outside the Unites States are usually under-reported, and the definition of kidnapping can vary widely.
While Phoenix has experienced hundreds of kidnappings over the past few years, we couldn't find reliable around-the-planet evidence to confirm they are number two in the world. In fact, experts advise that such rankings can't be made based on available information. If they could, they speculate, other cities would prove to have more kidnappings than Arizona's capital.
So we have found nothing confirming Phoenix as No. 2 in kidnappings in the world, or in the Western Hemisphere, or in North America. Combs, to his credit, immediately backed away from his statement when told this claim has been thoroughly debunked.
"I don't check out and verify everything that comes out, and I suppose I should if I'm going to repeat it in a debate," Combs said. "I appreciate you correcting the situation."
We appreciate that Combs is willing to admit that he didn’t know what he was talking about, but he should have. This claim has been rated false repeatedly as it has made the rounds, yet here it is again. If you repeat a statement that has been proven false, it amounts to a reckless disregard for the facts.
You may as well touch a match to your inseam. We move this statement to our lowest rating: Pants On Fire.
Podcast of July 16, 2010, City Club of Cleveland debate
Phone interview with Rep. Courtney Combs on Aug. 5, 2010.
PolitiFact Rhode Island, "Helen Glover says Phoenix is kidnapping capital of Western Hemisphere," July 15, 2010
PolitiFact Texas, "McCain says Phoenix is the second kidnapping capital in the world," June 28, 2010
PolitiFact Texas, "Dewhurst says Phoenix has more kidnappings than any other city in the world except for Mexico City," June 18, 2010
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