“So we’ve just seen many, many crimes getting worse all the time. And as Maine knows, a major destination for Somali refugees. Right? Am I right? Well, they’re all talking about it: Maine Somali refugees.”

— President-Elect Donald Trump, Aug. 4, 2016

 

When Donald Trump made a campaign stop in Portland this summer, he made two factual claims: that “many, many crimes (are) getting worse all the time,” and that the Somali refugee community of Maine is to blame for it.

Scott Thistle’s Portland Press Herald article of Aug. 5 quoted two Maine law enforcement officials who disputed his assertions and one Trump campaign staffer who stood behind them.

Had the election of 2016 turned out differently, this episode might be a mere historical footnote. As it is, however, Donald Trump is now president-elect and will shortly be the most powerful person on the planet. It is worth assessing these claims in detail because President Trump may act on the basis of his understanding in ways that affect Mainers’ lives.

Are “many, many crimes getting worse all the time” in the United States?

In a word, no.

Let’s document that answer. Crime reports are collected by police officers communities across the nation, then tallied by the FBI every year in the annual report “Crime in the United States”. The most recent data, released in September of this year, brings our knowledge of crime trends up to the end of 2015. The FBI classifies major crimes into two categories: property crime and violent crime. Here are the national trends from 1989 to 2015:

violentcrimeus1989to2015

propertycrimeus1989to2015

Clearly, as you can see, the crime rate has been falling in the United States for many years, not “getting worse all the time.” But perhaps President-Elect Trump was referring to crime in Maine. Here are the trends in Maine from 1989 to 2015:

violentcrimemaine1989to2015

propertycrimemaine1989to2015

In Maine, violent crime rates have stayed roughly the same over a generation, while property crime rates have diminished. This is also inconsistent with Donald Trump’s claim that crime has been “getting worse all the time.”

As for Donald Trump’s claim that the Somali refugee community of Maine is to blame for crime “getting worse all the time,” it simply can’t be true if crime rates have actually been improving. Beyond this, it actually turns out that in the city of Lewiston, where Somali refugees have settled most often in Maine, crime rates have made the strongest turnaround for the better. Let’s look at crime in the 15 years before Somali immigration to Lewiston began and compare then to the 15 years after:

violentcrimelewiston1985to2015

propertycrimelewiston1985to2015

Crime has gone down since Somali immigration to Lewiston began, not up.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s compare the change in Lewiston from 2001 to 2015 against changes in all other cities in Maine with a population of 10,000 or more. Rises are in red, falls are in green:

violentcrimechangemainecities2001to2015

propertycrimechangemainecities2001to2015

In the wake of Somali immigration to Lewiston, its violent crime rate fell while the rate in many other Maine cities rose. Meanwhile, Lewiston had the single greatest fall in crime rates of any Maine city.

No matter how you look at it, the evidence fails to support our new president’s denigration of Maine’s newest residents.

James Cook has been a professor of social science at the University of Maine at Augusta since 2011. Dr. Cook’s primary areas of interest in research and teaching are political organizations, social networks, and social media, specifically applying social network theory to social media in the Maine State Legislature.

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