President Trump said Thursday that Philadelphia's murder rate has been "steady, I mean, just terribly increasing."
By almost any interpretation, he's wrong.
First, let's look at his full quote:
"Right now, too many families don’t feel secure. Just look at the 30 largest cities. In the last year alone, the murder rate has increased by an estimated 14 percent. Here in Philadelphia, the murder rate has been steady, I mean, just terribly increasing.”
The most accurate interpretation of his remarks about Philadelphia would be to say the murder rate last year was steady. That is correct: In 2015, the murder rate was about 17.86 per 100,000 residents, according to a calculation using police statistics and census data. In 2016, it was about 17.41 per 100,000 residents.
But after saying "steady" Trump added, "I mean, just terribly increasing," which is incorrect. It's true that 2015 and 2016 had higher murder rates than 2013 and 2014. But the earlier two years had the lowest murder rates the city had seen in decades:
Philadelphia Murder Rate, 1985-2016
Annual murder totals have also not been increasing. In 2016, the city finished with 277 homicides, compared with 280 a year earlier. And while 2013 and 2014 had lower totals, all four years have been historically low compared with previous decades, when murder totals almost always topped 300 -- and in 1990 reached exactly 500.
Philadelphia Murders, 1985-2016
The city has had an unusually deadly January. As of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the city had recorded 27 homicides, according to the most recent police statistics. That is the highest total since 2012, and if the pace continues, it would represent a higher rate than the city has experienced in a while.
But experts often warn against reading too much into small sample sizes. In September, for example, the murder tally was 9 percent higher than a year before — and the city still ended the year with fewer overall homicides than in 2015.
"We never look at short-term trends in homicide because it's difficult to intepret," said Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University. "Anybody sensible steers clear [of] trying to put an interpretation on figures when they're that small."
Mayor Kenney on Thursday called Trump a purveyor of "fake facts" and said he feels badly that "the men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department who dedicate themselves every day to driving down our crime rate, laying their lives on the line, are standing out on the sidewalk, on the street, protecting him and all the other dignitaries ... and he denigrates them."
Kenney, a Democrat who did not meet with the Republican president during his visit, continued: "Our police officers have worked tirelessly and with great personal sacrifice to get Philadelphia’s crime rate down to its lowest point in 40 years, while also successfully implementing reforms to strengthen police-community relations and uphold the rights of all our residents."
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) also weighed in on Twitter:
— Sen. Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) January 26, 2017
Ratcliffe said the claim that Philadelphia's murder rate was up was "simply not true."
"There are no alternative facts here," he said. "The president is wrong."Staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.