Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, came to Milwaukee and said murder in the city “is up an astonishing 57 percent.”
His number wasn’t entirely wrong. It reflects a spike in murders that occurred after 2014.
But after the spike, the murders leveled off, and have begun to drop.
Sessions came to Milwaukee to announce he was adding two more federal prosecutors to fight violent crime in the city.
The former GOP U.S. senator from Alabama used statistics to underscore the need, saying rapes were up 21 percent in two years and murders up 57 percent.
A White House spokesman told us Sessions was also making a two-year comparison for Milwaukee’s murder rate. We were directed to City-Data.com figures showing Milwaukee had 90 murders in 2014 and 141 in 2016.
That’s an increase of 57 percent.
But the FBI figures show the big spike in Milwaukee murders occurred between 2014 and 2015 (perhaps because of opioids, according to a new federal study) — and then dropped in 2016.
More importantly, figures for an up-to-date two-year comparison — including 2017, which had nearly ended when Sessions made his statement — were available. These numbers were available from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s continuously updated homicide database and from the Milwaukee Police Department.
Both sets of figures show that from 2015 through Dec. 18, 2017, the number of murders was down — by 21 percent, according to the Journal Sentinel figures, and down by 20 percent according to the Milwaukee Police Department figures.
The Journal Sentinel counts are higher because they include killings, such as those deemed self-defense, that are not included in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting counts. The figures given to us by the Police Department follow the UCR system.
Sessions wasn’t entirely clear on his time frame, although in citing Milwaukee crime figures he had just made reference in his remarks to a two-year increase in rape. The FBI’s count of homicides in Milwaukee in 2016 — the latest year for which FBI figures are available — was 57 percent higher than it was two years earlier, in 2014. Clearly, murders are higher since 2014.
But that paints a misleading picture of the current situation. Using an up-to-date two-year comparison, homicides in 2017, while still higher than in 2014, were about 20 percent lower than they were in 2015.
For a statement that has an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False.
In Milwaukee, “murder is up an astonishing 57 percent.”
— Jeff Sessions on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 in a news conference