What is true is that violent-crime rates in some places are extremely high. Chicago is dealing with a consistently high rate of gun violence. Baltimore is averaging a murder a day in 2017, after a bloody 2016. Yet New York City saw a historic low murder rate in January. The high rate of violence in some places is cause for concern, but it’s simply not the case that it equates to a national crime wave like the one that began in the 1970s and crested in the early 1990s.
These willful misstatements of fact are not harmful simply because they’re false. Overheated rhetoric about rising crime tends to inflame the populace, and indeed, concern about violent crime has increased far faster than the rate of violent crime. Gallup finds that there is little direct relation between the rate of violent crime and citizens’ concern about it. That in turn creates a demand for action to meet the illusory skyrocketing threat of crime—demand that can produce policies that distract from bigger problems at best and are counterproductive at worst.
Enter the three executive orders that Trump signed Thursday, at the same event where Sessions was sworn in. According to the new White House’s custom, the text of the orders was not released until hours after they’d been signed.
One simply creates a task force to study crime-reduction and public safety, though it offers some sense of what to expect among enforcement priorities of the Sessions-led Justice Department, especially “illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime.”
A second emphasizes the importance of enforcing the law on transnational cartels. The order reflects Trump’s view, expounded frequently on the campaign trail, that drug cartels are a major source of crime in the United States, thus necessitating stronger controls on the border. The order says the executive branch will “pursue and support additional efforts to prevent the operational success of transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations within and beyond the United States, to include prosecution of ancillary criminal offenses, such as immigration fraud and visa fraud.” Examining immigration fraud and visa fraud could be a central element of creating the lists of crimes by illegal immigrants that Trump mandated in an earlier executive order.
The third order focuses on violence against police officers. The order says the Justice Department will develop strategies to improve protection of officers, including proposing legislation creating new federal crimes for perpetrating violence against officers. This order also offers little that is concrete, but Congress could take up legislation that emerges from its recommendations. (Former Attorney General Eric Holder tartly noted on Twitter that his Justice Department had pursued some protections for officers years ago.)