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PolitiFact: Charlie Crist’s crime comparison with Ron DeSantis is lacking in data

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist participate in a debate at the Sunrise Theater, Oct. 24, 2022, in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Democratic governor candidate Charlie Crist tried to cast doubt on Republican administration Ron DeSantis’ law and order leadership style in their only debate ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2010, contrasted his tenure’s crime rates with those under DeSantis.

“Crime is high under Governor DeSantis,” Crist said on Oct. 24. “Crime was low when I was your governor because we enforced the laws and made sure Floridians were safe.”

PolitiFact decided to fact-check Crist’s crime equation. Crist did not specify during the debate whether he was talking about violent or nonviolent crime.

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One problem immediately came to the fore: DeSantis’ half-term data isn’t ready yet.

Usually false

Incomplete data for most of DeSantis’ term

State crime statistics come from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which collects crime data from local law enforcement agencies for an annual report that is presented to the legislature and the FBI for the national Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

The data has several limitations. Its quality depends on the accuracy of the information provided to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by local law enforcement. But they’ve made reporting errors before.

With that in mind, overall crime dropped about 12% between 2007 and 2010, Crist’s first and last full year as governor. DeSantis took office in 2019. From 2019 to 2020, reported crimes dropped from 541,328 to 464,805 — a 14% drop.

That figure includes violent crimes, including murder and rape, and property crimes, such as theft and theft of motor vehicles. Put another way, the crime rate dropped from about 2,552 reported crimes per 100,000 population to 2,158 per 100,000 population.

But there are caveats: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not published data for more recent years of DeSantis’s term. Crime totals for 2021 will not be released until November 30; figures for 2022 will not be available until 2023.

The state did not allow PolitiFact to preview the 2021 report prior to release.

While crimes have dropped significantly in 2020, researchers are still assessing how the pandemic and its associated lockdown orders have affected crime.

When we asked Crist’s campaign about his claim, a spokesperson said Crist was referring to trends in violent crime. According to the department, violent crime fell from 128,144 to 98,564 in Crist’s four years — a 23.1% drop.

Violent crime has risen from 81,091 in 2019 to 83,290 in 2020 — a 2.7% increase from DeSantis’ first year. The number of violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants increased by 0.9%.

Again, without numbers for the rest of DeSantis’s term, it’s not a complete comparison.

Violent crime accounts for a small number of all Florida crimes, and small changes could skew the trend.

“Violent crimes, especially homicides, are still relatively rare,” said Lyndsay Boggess, a professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida. “Even small changes in the homicide rate can look like a dramatic increase in the number.”

Boggess said changes in reported crimes from one year to the next could reflect statistical anomalies or external factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. She also warned against giving politicians too much influence over crime trends.

“Enforcement decisions are made at the local level, so police chiefs and sheriffs are likely to have more influence over crime,” Boggess said. “However, the legislature and governors can fund programs and appoint judges.”

our statement

Crist said, “Crime has risen under Governor DeSantis. Crime was down when I was your governor.’

This is a misleading claim. Data on DeSantis’ third and fourth years in office are not yet available, so comparisons to Crist’s full tenure are incomplete.

Nevertheless, overall crime — including robbery and motor vehicle theft, among other crimes — fell more than 13% in DeSantis’ first year in office. Violent crimes alone are up 2% in 2020, the most recent data available. The effects of the pandemic on crime are still under investigation.

Although crime declined during Crist’s tenure, each of his years as governor had a higher crime volume and crime rate than what has been recorded for DeSantis to date.

We judge Crist’s claim to be largely false.

Our Resources

Email interview with Sam Ramirez, communications director for the Crist campaign, October 25, 2022

E-mail interview with Delanie Bomar, press secretary for the DeSantis campaign, October 27, 2022

Email interview with Dennis Kenney, professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, October 27, 2022

Email interview with Lyndsay Boggess, associate professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida, October 27, 2022

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2020 Crime in Florida Abstract Report, Accessed October 26, 2022

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Statewide Violent Crime Reported 1971-2020, accessed October 26, 2022

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2010 Crime in Florida abstract report, accessed October 26, 2022

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2009 Crime in Florida abstract report, accessed October 26, 2022

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2008 Crime in Florida abstract report, accessed October 26, 2022

Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2007 Crime in Florida abstract report, accessed October 26, 2022

PolitiFact, Andrew Gillum Says Crime Is Falling in Tallahassee, Oct 8, 2018

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Charlie Crist’s crime comparison with Ron DeSantis is lacking data

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