Set to the creepy voice of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, a Facebook video blames Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for a murder spike in his city.
The ad then levels a series of charges about his record, including that he "oversaw a 52 percent increase in murder."
(Yes, the PAC was having some fun with the fact that Gillum’s name is similar to Gollum while bringing up violent crime.)
Did Gillum oversee a 52 percent increase in city murders? There's a way to get to that number, but it isn't very honest.
The PAC cherry-picked data that made the city sound like a growing hotbed for murder. In reality, the number of murders during Gillum’s tenure as mayor has swung little, ranging from 11 to 17 deaths in four years. Further, the ad goes too far to pin the responsibility on Gillum. Tallahassee has a weak mayor form of government, which means Gillum is just one vote on the commission.
Florida Strong PAC chairman Stafford Jones told PolitiFact that he gleaned the information about the city’s murder rate from a Republican Party of Florida Facebook post.
The party drew data from Tallahassee Reports, a website critical of city government run by former city commission candidate Steve Stewart. Tallahassee Reports looked at data reported by the city’s police department to the state for the annual FBI reports.
The data covers Gillum’s political tenure; he was elected to the city commission in 2003 and became mayor in late 2014.
The website found that from 2002 to 2009 the average murder rate per 100,000 citizens in Tallahassee was 4.6. Then, from 2010 to 2017, the average murder rate increased to 7 murders per 100,000 citizens.
The increase equals 52 percent.
But if we look at the sheer number of murders we see that the number of murders ranges from a low of four deaths in 2003 to a high of 17 in 2017. If we look just at Gillum's mayoral tenure, the range was between 11 and 17 murders.
We sent the Tallahassee Reports data to Brian Stults, a criminologist at Florida State University.
"There is nothing wrong with the math, nor anything inherently wrong with the approach," he said. "It just cherry-picks a single number that happens to be the most volatile in most places."
He said small numbers must be viewed with caution and that it requires taking a broader look at trends.
"In both periods, the risk of being murdered is very, very low," Stults said. "Small random fluctuations from year to year can lead to dramatic changes in the murder rate that are not as substantial as they may seem."
Stults created his own spreadsheet using FDLE data showing crime and crime rate data in Tallahassee. He, too, found spikes in the murder rate, though he noted that the size of the increase depended upon the methodology used.
Several criminology experts said that the data about the murder rate in isolation doesn’t tell us much about murders, or more broadly, crime about the city.
Experts also generally warn against blaming a mayor for the crime rate (or the inverse, giving a mayor credit for a drop in crime). Crime is influenced by local characteristics beyond a mayor’s control, such as poverty rates and the concentration of the youth population.
A murder rate alone doesn’t account for shifts in the demographic makeup of the population that may affect the murder rate, said Florida State University criminologist William D. Bales.
"Blaming changes in the murder rate, or any other type of crime, over time in a community on one single person is fallacious," he said.
The number of murders alone doesn’t tell us anything about how many suspects murdered strangers compared to acquaintances or people they know well, University of Florida professor Jodi Lane said. Generally, people are more likely to be killed by someone they know, which is much more difficult for a politician to affect.
Stults said that that while citizens are often quite concerned about the murder rate since it is such a serious form of victimization, the likelihood of being murdered in Tallahassee is extremely low.
A video by Florida Strong says Gillum "oversaw a 52 percent increase in murder."
This attack is hollow.
The attack stems from data showing that the murder rate increased from 4.6 per 100,000 residents between 2002-09 — when Gillum was on the city commission — to 7 per 100,000 residents between 2010-17, when Gillum was on the commission and then became mayor. The math works out to 52 percent.
Highlighting this number with no context is a scare tactic. The annual numbers of murders are small, where any increase can lead to a large rate spike. By stating that Gillum "oversaw" that murder increase suggests that he is to blame when in fact he is one of a handful of votes on the commission. Crime is influenced by factors beyond a mayor’s control.
We rate this statement Mostly False.