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Allison Graves
By Allison Graves February 22, 2017

Fact-checking Swedish response to Donald Trump campaign cry

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt is taking a card out of President Donald Trump’s playbook: foreign relations in 140 characters or less.

At a political rally in Melbourne, Fla., on Feb. 18, Trump wrongly suggested a horrible crime had taken place in Sweden. After media reports, including PolitiFact, noted that no terrorist incident transpired in Sweden Feb. 17, Trump tried to clarify his statement multiple times.

Bildt — unsatisfied with Trump’s latest charge — struck back.

"Last year there were app 50% more murders only in Orlando/Orange in Florida, where Trump spoke the other day, than in all of Sweden. Bad," Bildt wrote in a tweet Feb. 20.

It’s worth noting that Trump actually spoke at the Orlando Melbourne International airport, which is approximately 65 miles southeast of Orlando and located in Brevard County, not Orange. Still, the shade being thrown was too much to resist, so PolitiFact Florida decided to take a look at Bildt’s claim for ourselves.

What we found is that Bildt’s assertion relies on data that isn’t uniformly available yet, and is based on a single point of time. Not only does picking one year make it hard to make meaningful comparisons, it also includes the year with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Crunching the numbers

We never heard back from Bildt’s assistant about where he got his numbers, which made it impossible to verify the specific point he made.

Bildt specifically said "last year" in his comparison, but 2016 data regarding homicides won’t be uniformly available in Sweden until March 30.

Furthermore, experts said using Orlando’s 2016 murder count inflates the real murder rate because of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

"You can't make meaningful comparisons when you’re using outliers, which is why it’s better to look at long-term trends in crime," said Jaclyn Schildkraut, an assistant professor at the State University of New York in Oswego.

With these factors in mind, we tried to answer the overarching question Bildt’s point makes: Are there typically more murders in Orange County, which includes Orlando and has a population of about 1.2 million people, than in Sweden, population 9.8 million as of 2015?

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To get the most accurate picture of the situation, Schildkraut compiled 10 years worth of data (2006-15) from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI Uniform Crime Report and the The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.

Two important notes before we go on.

First, Bildt said murders. The FBI tracks homicides. Murder falls under the larger homicide umbrella, which also includes justifiable or excusable homicides, for example. The statistics that Schildkraut provided are for murder and non-negligent manslaughter, which are still homicides, but eliminate the other justifiable or excusable cases.

Second, Sweden, Orange County, Orlando and Melbourne have drastically different populations, so to get the best idea of how the Florida locations compare to Sweden it’s better to calculate the homicide rates and then compare.

That rate can be calculated by dividing the number of homicides by the population and then multiplying that total by 100,000.

For Orange County, Orlando and Sweden, Schildkraut found the number of homicides, the population and the homicide rate.

That data shows that the homicide rate in Orange County and Orlando between 2006 to 2015 was significantly higher than Sweden’s.

From 2006 to 2015, Sweden’s homicide rate has remained steady, hovering between 0.7 to 1.2 homicides for every 100,000 people.

Orlando’s homicide rate has been significantly higher through the years. It peaked in 2006 with 22.6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2006. It’s lowest rate was in 2015, when there were 5.8 homicides per 100,000 people.

As for Orange County, which pulls in the Orlando suburbs, the homicide rate was still significantly higher than in Sweden. In 2015, the homicide rate in Orange County was roughly 4.3 homicides for every 100,000 people.

Even if you check Melbourne, the actual location of Trump’s speech, the pattern holds.

Our ruling

Bildt said, "Last year there were app 50% more murders only in Orlando/Orange in Florida, where Trump spoke the other day, than in all of Sweden. Bad."

We're not sure where Bildt got his numbers from because data from 2016 is incomplete.

But if history is any guide, he will actually have understated the comparison between Orlando, Orange County and Sweden. For almost a decade, homicide rates in those Florida municipalities have far exceeded that of Sweden. His argument also would have been on par for Melbourne too, had Bildt designated that as the city Trump spoke in.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Email, Caroline Fredler, assistant to Carl Bildt, Feb. 20-22

Email, Natasha Saunders, Records Manager Melbourne Police Department, Feb. 21

Email, Wanda Miglio, PIO for the Orlando Police Department

Email, Public Information Officers at the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Feb. 20-21

Email, Brevard County Sheriff's Office PIO, Feb. 21

Email interview, Richard Rosenfeld, Professors at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, Feb. 20.

Email, Monica Landergård, press officer for the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, Feb. 21

Email interview, Bill Bales, professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, June 23-28, 2016

Interviews, Jaclyn Schildkraut of the State University of New York in Oswego, Feb. 21-22

Email interview, Frank Zimring, a law professor and criminal justice expert at UC Berkeley, Feb. 20

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump in Florida laments 'what's happening last night in Sweden.' But nothing happened," Feb. 19, 2017.

U.S. Population Estimates: FBI Uniform Crime Report - Table 8 for City; U.S. Census Bureau's American Fact Finder for County

U.S. Homicide Counts:  FBI Uniform Crime Report (respective years - Table 8 for City; Table 10 for County

Population estimates in Sweden: Statistics Sweden

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Fact-checking Swedish response to Donald Trump campaign cry

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