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Trump Called Atlanta a Violent Crime War Zone. Is That True?

Despite the former president’s claims, data shows violent crime is down more than 20 percent across the city and for the first time in four years homicides were down amid efforts to curb deadly violence.

In announcing his Thursday surrender in Fulton County, Ga., former President Donald Trump fumed that DA Fani Willis “is overseeing one of the greatest murder and violent crime DISASTERS in American History.”

Willis has “allowed Atlanta to become one of the most dangerous cities anywhere in the world” Trump posted the day he and 18 others were indicted in Fulton County last week. In one post blasting “radical left lunatics,” he said Willis “allowed Atlanta (Fulton County) to become a record setting Murder and Violent Crime War Zone.”

“Can you believe it? This failed District Attorney from Atlanta, Fani Willis, where murders and other violent crime soars daily to new record highs, is charging me with 2020 Presidential Election Interference,” he posted a few days after the grand jury accused him of orchestrating a sweeping “criminal enterprise” with his allies to overturn his 2020 defeat in Georgia.

In fact, violent crime is down more than 20 percent compared to this time last year, according to Atlanta Police Department data. Motor vehicle theft and theft from vehicles were the only areas of increase, records show. Data analyzed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show claims by Trump and his surrogates regarding crime in Atlanta are misleading at best.

The 2022 annual report from the City of Atlanta Police Department shows violent crime – homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults – decreased 9 percent from 2021 to 2022. Property crime, including shoplifting, and motor vehicle theft, increased just 1 percent.

And for the first time in four years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month, homicides were down across Atlanta as city leaders bolster youth outreach programs in an effort to curb deadly violence. The shift follows Mayor Andre Dickens’ efforts aimed at combating violence, particularly among youths.

“The Mayor is an engineer by trade and is focused on facts and data — not empty rhetoric,” a spokesman for Dickens said in response to Trump’s comments on crime. “While one homicide in Atlanta is one too many, as of today, homicides are down 26 percent compared to this time last year.”

The Atlanta Police Department declined to comment on Trump’s claims.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will be in Milwaukee this week on behalf of Trump, who is skipping the GOP debate there. She posted on social media that murders, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and shoplifting in Atlanta have “skyrocketed” during Willis’ tenure.

Some of the crimes Greene highlighted did increase from 2021 to 2022. Homicides rose by 6 percent, with modest increases in burglaries and car thefts, and the largest increase – 14 percent – in shoplifting.

Robberies, rapes and aggravated assaults decreased, records show.

Beyond Short-Term Comparisons

Thaddeus Johnson, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Georgia State University and a former Memphis police commander, cautioned against reading too much into year-to-year comparisons, especially following the rise in violent crime during the pandemic.

“With COVID you have this major event,” Johnson said. “COVID provides a natural experiment with a natural cutoff. You use that COVID line as a comparison point, but then you also use the pre-(COVID) years to understand how these trends really change.”

When comparing Atlanta police data from 2016 to 2022, Atlanta’s most pressing criminal issues come into focus. Homicides and aggravated assaults were both up about 50 percent in that time.

But claims that Willis, who took office on Jan. 1, 2021, is responsible (“overseeing” is how Trump put it) for an increase in violent crime, aren’t valid, Johnson said. He estimates it would take 12 to 18 months to see the results of most policy decisions.

“When bad policies are in place it’s hard to stop the momentum and then pick up momentum from a new policy,” he said. “It’s not an instantaneous process.”

Nationwide, the rate of violent crime most recently spiked around 1991, when FBI data shows there were more than 750 violent crimes per 100,000 people. By 2020, that rate was nearly cut in half.

Over the span of more than 20 years, the rate of violent crime has declined, but waves of violence have interrupted that trend. One such wave occurred in 2016, after a record-low rate in 2014. The nation experienced another sharp increase in 2020, driven primarily by more homicides.

The homicide rates for both Atlanta and the nation had the largest single-year increases in recent history from 2019 to 2020.

The Atlanta Police Department is currently in the middle of Operation Heatwave, a 16-week effort to reduce homicides and other violent crime by sending officers to targeted areas.

“We won’t tolerate the level of the violence that is plaguing our city,” Atlanta’s Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton told the AJC last month. “We’re going to hold everyone responsible for these violent acts. This is not Atlanta. Atlanta is a place where people can go out to the parks, the nightclubs, anywhere and be safe.”

In Atlanta, homicides dropped to a record low in 2017, but in 2022 reached their highest level in decades – 34 homicides per 100,000 people. Authorities investigated 170 homicide cases in 2022, the most since 1996.

“Yes, Atlanta has seen increases in homicides,” Johnson said, but recent data show about a 30 percent decrease in the homicide rate for the first half of this year compared to last year. “That doesn’t sound like a place that’s out of control.”

©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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