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Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum gestures as he speaks to members of Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Miami. (AP) Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum gestures as he speaks to members of Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Miami. (AP)

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum gestures as he speaks to members of Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Miami. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 8, 2018

Andrew Gillum says crime dropping in Tallahassee

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has pushed back on attacks by Republicans that he oversees a crime-ridden city.

Gillum’s opponent in the Florida governor’s race, Ron DeSantis, zeroed in on the crime rate in an interview with CBS4’s Jim DeFede.

"This is a guy that is presiding over the highest crime in Florida four years running," DeSantis said Sept. 23.

One week later, also on DeFede’s show, Gillum fired back:

"I'm the mayor of a city that right now is experiencing a five-year low in our crime rate and we accomplished that by having fewer arrests at the same time," he said.

We decided to fact-check both candidates who are running for governor. We found that  DeSantis and Gillum point to valid statistics, but cherry-pick those that make their point while omitting the broader picture and caveats about crime statistics.

"I would say that both DeSantis and Gillum are off the mark a bit in either blaming or crediting the mayor," University of Florida criminology professor emeritus Ronald Akers said.

Here, we will fact-check the statement by Gillum that Tallahassee is experiencing a five-year low in its crime rate.

Tallahassee’s crime rate

Experts generally focus on crime rates per 100,000 residents rather than sheer numbers of crimes. The Tallahassee Police Department, among other law enforcement agencies across the state, report crime data to the state for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports program each year. The data includes arrest and crime figures for several types of offenses, including murder, rape, robberies and thefts.

We looked at the reports on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website and compiled the crime rate for each year for the past decade. Gillum was sworn into office as mayor in November 2014 following more than a decade on the city commission.

 

Year

Tallahassee crime rate per 100,000 residents

2017

5,764.5

2016

6,726.8

2015

6,211.3

2014

5,833.7

2013

5,178.3

2012

5,553.7

2011

Featured Fact-check

6,041.1

2010

5,801.9

2009

5,669.6

2008

6,115.2

Source: Uniform Crime Reports

So when Gillum says that Tallahassee is experiencing a five-year low in the crime rate, he is pointing to the rate of 5,764.5 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2017 and comparing that 2013, when the rate was 5,187.3.

Gillum has said the downward trend in crime has continued so far in 2018. In September, city Police Chief Michael DeLeo shared data with the city commission showing that during the first six months of 2018 overall crime was down 10.3 percent and violent crime was down 24 percent.

One caveat about crime data: it is only as good as the reporting by the local police agencies. An audit the police chief sought found that the city incorrectly reported crime statistics at a higher rate due to various errors in 2017.

DeLeo told PolitiFact a small percentage of the drop between 2016 and 2017 is attributed to the overreporting found in the audit. However, he said that even when comparing the first half of 2016 and 2017 before the reports were audited there was a decrease in crime.

Other side of the crime picture

Rather than focus on the more favorable trend of reduced crime, the Republicans focus on hard, scary recent numbers.

In 2017, the city had 17 murders, the highest ever. In the same year, Leon County’s crime rate was the highest in the state — as it was in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

While Leon County is a broader area than just the city of Tallahassee, the Tallahassee Police Department handles the bulk of the county’s crime.

Limitations of crime rate data

The FBI cautions about the pitfalls of using crime statistics to rank communities.

Such rankings ignore local characteristics that influence crime, such as poverty rates and the concentration of the youth population. The American Society of Criminology reached a similar conclusion.

Tallahassee is a college town, home to Florida State University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and also the state government. Accordingly, the city has a large number of visitors who do not live year-round in the city, including students, lobbyists, politicians and other people who work at the Capitol but may live in other cities.

That means that crimes committed against — or by — students or commuters who work in the capital city are included in the count of Tallahassee’s crimes, but many of them are not counted in the residential population of the city.

"This causes the per-person crime rate to be artificially inflated," said Brian Stults, an associate criminology professor at Florida State.

A city mayor has relatively little control over the characteristics most often identified as the strongest predictors of local crime rates, such as poverty and the age of residents, Stults said.

The mayor may have some control over the size of the police department, but studies are inconsistent about whether increases in police size and funding lead to decreases in crime, Stults said. The more important factor is not how many police you have, but how they police. 

The police department has increased its emphasis on community and problem-oriented policing over the past several years, which some studies have linked to reductions in crime.

A city spokeswoman said Tallahassee has hired a few dozen more police officers during Gillum’s tenure as mayor, growing the force by about 11 percent.

Mayors, and police chiefs, can influence the strategies the police department uses, but the results that flow from these strategies take time, said Dennis Jay Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a police officer in Bartow, Fla., in the 1970s.

The Tallahassee Democrat has written about various efforts by city and county officials to tackle crime in recent years, including targeting violent crime hotspots, monitoring crime trends, and developing a program for young people who are not in school or work.

Experts caution against giving politicians credit or blame for declines or increases in crime, which are more likely a function of social changes in the community or economy than political actions.

Our ruling

Gillum said, "I'm the mayor of a city that right now is experiencing a five-year low in our crime rate."

The crime rate in Tallahassee was 5,764.5 per 100,000 people in 2017 — the last time it was lower was in 2013.

While Gillum points to the good news about the crime rate drop, Leon County still tops the state in the crime rate. The county includes a broader area than Tallahassee. Experts caution against mayors taking too much credit (or blame) for changes in crime, which is heavily influenced by factors beyond a mayor’s control.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

CBS4 Facing South Florida, "Facing South Florida: Discussing Gubernatorial Race With Ron DeSantis & Jeanette Nunez," Sept. 23, 2018

CBS4 Facing South Florida, "Facing South Florida: One-On-One With Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum," Sept. 30, 2018

Fox News, "Ron DeSantis speaks about primary victory," Aug. 28, 2018

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Summary of UCR data, Crime in Leon County 2017

Florida Department of Law Enforcement UCR data, County and municipal offense data (page 39), 2017

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Uniform crime reports statewide county report, 2017

Tallahassee City Commission, Public safety update, Sept. 12, 2018

Tampa Bay Times The Buzz, "Andrew Gillum’s former chief of staff is campaigning to fix the city’s high crime rate," Sept. 24, 2018

Miami Herald, "As murders soared, this candidate wanted a ‘state of emergency.’ Others didn’t agree," Aug. 17, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Accusations fly between Dailey and Daniels; Tallahassee mayoral candidates go at it," Oct. 1, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Leon has highest crime rate; Jump in property crimes keeps county on top again," June 16, 2017

Tallahassee Democrat, Leon County crime rate, 2017

Tallahassee Democrat, "Sheriff's budget seeks hires, equipment," June 11, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Crime rate down, but Leon tops state," May 23, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Audit: TPD crime data incorrectly reported," May 14, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Crime continues to loom large over Tallahassee," March 4, 2018

Tallahassee Democrat, "Crime in the spotlight," Dec. 29, 2017

Tallahassee Democrat, "Accusations fly between Dailey and Daniels; Tallahassee mayoral candidates go at it," Oct. 1, 2018

24/7 Wallet, "The Most Dangerous City in Every State," May 19, 2017

Journal of Experimental Criminology, "Community-oriented policing to reduce crime, disorder and fear and increase satisfaction and legitimacy among citizens: a systematic review," December 2014

Criminal and Public Policy, "Is Problem-Oriented Policing Effective in Reducing Crime and Disorder? Findings from a Campbell Systematic Review," February 2010

Interview, Stephen Lawson, Ron DeSantis campaign spokesman, Aug. 29 and Oct. 3, 2018

Interview, Geoff Burgan, Andrew Gillum campaign spokesman, Aug. 29, 2018

Interview, Carlie Wylie, Andrew Gillum campaign spokesman, Oct. 4, 2018

Interview, Alison Faris, City of Tallahassee spokeswoman, Aug. 31, 2018

Interview, Brian Stults, Florida State University associate professor of criminology, Aug. 30 and Oct. 4, 2018

Interview, Dennis Kenney, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor, Aug. 30 and Oct. 4, 3018

Interview, Ronald Akers, University of Florida emeritus professor criminology and the law, Sept. 4, 2018

Interview, Ernesto Rodriguez, Miami Beach Police Department spokesman, Sept. 1, 2018

Interview, Det. Tracy Figone, Fort Lauderdale Police Department spokeswoman, Sept. 4, 2018

Interview, Sgt. Eduardo Bernal and Michelle Guido, Orlando Police Department spokespersons, Sept. 4, 2018

Interview, Tallahassee police chief Michael DeLeo, Oct. 4, 2018

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