Florida PAC levels scary and misleading claim about Tallahassees murder rate under Andrew Gillum

Florida PAC levels scary and misleading claim about Tallahassee\s murder rate under Andrew Gillum
Democrat Andrew Gillum Back On Campaign Trail for Florida Governor After Hurricane Break
Set to the creepy voice of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, a Facebook video blames Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for a murder spike in his city.

"Andrew Gillum," says the narrator of the video, produced by the conservative Florida Strong PAC. "He is a failed mayor …"

The ad then levels a series of charges about his record, including that he "oversaw a 52 percent increase in murder."

(Yes, the PAC was having some fun with the fact that Gillum’s name is similar to Gollum while bringing up violent crime.)

Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis have been arguing over the city’s record on crime for months.

Did Gillum oversee a 52 percent increase in city murders? There's a way to get to that number, but it isn't very honest.

The PAC cherry-picked data that made the city sound like a growing hotbed for murder. In reality, the number of murders during Gillum’s tenure as mayor has swung little, ranging from 11 to 17 deaths in four years. Further, the ad goes too far to pin the responsibility on Gillum. Tallahassee has a weak mayor form of government, which means Gillum is just one vote on the commission.

Florida Strong PAC chairman Stafford Jones told PolitiFact that he gleaned the information about the city’s murder rate from a Republican Party of Florida Facebook post.

The party drew data from Tallahassee Reports, a website critical of city government run by former city commission candidate Steve Stewart. Tallahassee Reports looked at data reported by the city’s police department to the state for the annual FBI reports.

The data covers Gillum’s political tenure; he was elected to the city commission in 2003 and became mayor in late 2014.

The website found that from 2002 to 2009 the average murder rate per 100,000 citizens in Tallahassee was 4.6. Then, from 2010 to 2017, the average murder rate increased to 7 murders per 100,000 citizens.

But if we look at the sheer number of murders we see that the number of murders ranges from a low of four deaths in 2003 to a high of 17 in 2017. If we look just at Gillum's mayoral tenure, the range was between 11 and 17 murders.

"There is nothing wrong with the math, nor anything inherently wrong with the approach," he said. "It just cherry-picks a single number that happens to be the most volatile in most places."

He said small numbers must be viewed with caution and that it requires taking a broader look at trends.

"In both periods, the risk of being murdered is very, very low," Stults said. "Small random fluctuations from year to year can lead to dramatic changes in the murder rate that are not as substantial as they may seem."

Stults created his own spreadsheet using FDLE data showing crime and crime rate data in Tallahassee. He, too, found spikes in the murder rate, though he noted that the size of the increase depended upon the methodology used.

DeSantis has cited an even higher figure when he tweeted that "the murder rate increased 83 percent."  That’s a reference to an increase in murders in Leon County from 12 in 2016 to 22 in 2017.

Several criminology experts said that the data about the murder rate in isolation doesn’t tell us much about murders, or more broadly, crime about the city.

Experts also generally warn against blaming a mayor for the crime rate (or the inverse, giving a mayor credit for a drop in crime). Crime is influenced by local characteristics beyond a mayor’s control, such as poverty rates and the concentration of the youth population.

A murder rate alone doesn’t account for shifts in the demographic makeup of the population that may affect the murder rate, said Florida State University criminologist William D. Bales.

"Blaming changes in the murder rate, or any other type of crime, over time in a community on one single person is fallacious," he said.

The number of murders alone doesn’t tell us anything about how many suspects murdered strangers compared to acquaintances or people they know well, University of Florida professor Jodi Lane said. Generally, people are more likely to be killed by someone they know, which is much more difficult for a politician to affect.

Stults said that that while citizens are often quite concerned about the murder rate since it is such a serious form of victimization, the likelihood of being murdered in Tallahassee is extremely low.

The attack stems from data showing that the murder rate increased from 4.6 per 100,000 residents between 2002-09 — when Gillum was on the city commission — to 7 per 100,000 residents between 2010-17, when Gillum was on the commission and then became mayor. The math works out to 52 percent.

Highlighting this number with no context is a scare tactic. The annual numbers of murders are small, where any increase can lead to a large rate spike. By stating that Gillum "oversaw" that murder increase suggests that he is to blame when in fact he is one of a handful of votes on the commission. Crime is influenced by factors beyond a mayor’s control.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ― Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum made his return to the gubernatorial campaign trail Friday after a week and a half away to deal with Hurricane Michael, while Republican Ron DeSantis continued a lower-key campaign focused on painting his Democratic opponent as too extreme for Florida.

Listen, I must be the only person with a job! It is noon! Gillum laughed as he surveyed the crowd packed into a music auditorium at St. Petersburg College. I dont know about yall, but Im ready to win!

Gillum is the first African-American major party nominee for Florida governor, and his unabashedly liberal positions on health care, criminal justice reform and the environment, combined with his ability to engage an audience, made him a favorite of national progressive groups years ago.

On Friday, his newfound star power drew many hundreds to wait in line in late-morning heat and humidity for the opportunity to attend his hourlong appearance. The auditorium could only accommodate 300, and hundreds were turned away.

Too small. Its way too small, said Barbara Kincaide, 57. I wish they had a bigger place.

Amie Marion, 37, who similarly waited over an hour to get in the doors, said Democrats were already excited about the coming election but that Gillum has taken it to a new level. I dont think you can call it hopeful anymore. They are tired. People want change.

Gillums advertised topic was Floridas resilience, forged by hurricanes, but he used it as a springboard to run through his various policy positions, particularly the warming of the planet and the associated sea-level rise. Part of having a more resilient state is having a governor who believes in science, he said, mocking the attitude taken by many Republicans, including current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, to answer any question about climate change by pointing out that they are not scientists.

Well, guess what? Gillum said. Im not a doctor, either. But when Im sick, I am going to see one.

Gillum took himself off the campaign trail a few days before Hurricane Michael struck the panhandle coast at Mexico Beach, at a time the storm was forecast to hit the coast just south of Tallahassee and with minimal hurricane strength.

Instead it grew to Category 4 status and came ashore about 100 miles west of the capital ― far enough away that Gillums city avoided any serious damage but still close enough that nearly 90 percent of its residents lost power. On most of his days off the trail, Gillum appeared on national cable television news programs to update viewers on the storms status and on recovery efforts in and around Tallahassee.

DeSantis, having served most of his third term in Congress representing wealthy suburbs of Jacksonville, resigned in the weeks before the hurricane struck to focus on his run for governor. As a result, he had no official responsibilities during the storm and its aftermath and continued his lower-key, base-heavy campaign.

Its an approach he has been locked into after centering his primary campaign on his support for President Donald Trump, who has endorsed him. While his Republican primary opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a party establishment favorite, built a traditional grassroots campaign of supporters across the state, DeSantis largely remained in Washington, D.C., making frequent appearances on Fox News to defend Trump and attack Democrats on national issues.

That strategy wound up working in a state whose Republican primary voters strongly support Trump, but its proving a tougher sell to moderate Democrats and independents who dislike Trump ― often intensely.

Gillum on Friday reminded his audience of DeSantis ties to Trump, as he warned them that DeSantis is likely to ramp up his attacks on Gillum in the final two weeks of the race. Hes going to call me a socialist, Gillum said. Hes going to call me corrupt.

The previous night, speaking to a Duval County Republicans dinner in Jacksonville, DeSantis did exactly that. Are you a socialist or are you for free enterprise? I will say I am for free enterprise, DeSantis told the 350 or so Republicans seated at tables set on a covered-over hockey arena. I am the only one who can credibly say I am not under FBI investigation.

Gillum has been dogged for over a year by a federal probe into his city government. Among the records investigators have gathered are those from a lobbyist and longtime friend and supporter of Gillum. No one has been charged in the investigation, and Gillum has said the FBI told him he is not a target.

DeSantis also accused Gillum of being too lenient on criminals and having allied himself with a group that believes society should have neither police nor prisons.

Andrew has failed to keep Tallahassee safe. It is an absolute disaster, DeSantis said. You are basically begging for a crime spree.

DeSantis and Gillum are scheduled to face each other in their first debate Sunday evening, just 16 days before Election Day.

Posted in Tallahassee