Putting aside the crude, inflammatory nature of his rhetoric, it turns out that Biden’s numbers are incorrect. According to statistics compiled by the FBI, the figures cited by the vice president are slightly off, but not egregiously so, when it comes to the size of the police force and the murder rate in Flint. According to the FBI data, the city employed 201 police officers in 2008 and 132 officers in 2010. There were 32 reported murders in 2008, which rose to 53 in 2010. With respect to the rape figures, however, Biden is way off. FBI data show that the incidence of reported forcible rapes actually dropped, with 103 rapes reported in 2008, but just 92 in 2010. Hardly the 150 percent increase Biden cited.
According to the same figures, property crime, theft, and robbery also declined in Flint between 2008 and 2010. In fact, the city’s overall crime index has been steadily declining since 2006. This mirrors national trends. The FBI datareleased in September show that in 2010, violent and property crimes declined by 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, compared with 2009 levels. Robbery was down 10 percent, rape was down 5 percent, and murder, manslaughter, and aggravated assault were each down 4 percent.
From the Washington Post, which awarded Biden a rare “Four Pinocchios” distinction, reserved for absolute whoppers:
Biden, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1994, was author of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in U.S. history. On the face of it, a threefold increase in rape in two years—when other violent crime statistics show relatively modest increases in the same city—should raise serious questions for anyone knowledgeable about crime or statistics. Clearly, the city of Flint supplied bad data, and either Biden or someone in Biden’s office should have caught it.
In any case, the vice president should know better than to spout off half-baked facts in service of a dubious argument. Even if one believes there is a link between crime and the number of police—which is debatable and subject to many caveats—there is no excuse to make the dramatic claim that more people will die or be raped without additional funds for police. When making such a breathtaking charge, you had better have your facts straight.
Read the whole thing here.
Factcheck.org asked Biden’s office to explain the discrepancy in the data, and was referred to a statement from the Flint mayor’s office, which apparently provided the vice president with those faulty statistics. Flint Public Safety Director Chief Alvern Lock said the city “stands behind the crime statistics provided to the Office of The Vice President,” and argued that “the discrepancies with the FBI and other sources reveal the differences in how crimes can be counted and categorized, based on different criteria.”
Factcheck.org cries foul:
The statement falls short of supporting Biden’s various claims, however. For several reasons:
- The city didn’t specify what rape figures it gave Biden, and he’s given at least three different and conflicting accounts. He said variously that the increase from 2008 was 152 percent, that it tripled and that it “quadrupled.” At least two of those claims must be wrong.
- It’s true that rapes are notoriously underreported, as the vice president’s office pointed out to us. But Biden was talking about reported rapes. In fact, he used the FBI data when he said that there were 103 rapes in Flint in 2008. So why was the FBI report accurate in 2008 but not accurate in 2010? The city didn’t explain that.
- The FBI gets its data from the city, because Uniform Crime Reports are voluntary and self reporting. If there was a mistake on the rape data, then it was the city’s fault. But the city, in its statement, does not acknowledge making a mistake in reporting rape data to the FBI.
- The city did admit that it made a mistake in reporting the number of murders that occurred in 2010. It did so immediately — on the day the FBI report came out in May — and it did so again in the statement released in response to our questions. But it did not admit to making any reporting mistakes on rapes, then or now.
And, inevitably, the truth comes out. A city spokeswoman clarifies the creative “logic” Biden used to arrive at his faulty conclusion:
Update, Oct. 21: City spokeswoman Dawn Jones later explained to us that the 2010 figure provided to Biden included not just rapes that the city reports to the FBI but also “all cases of criminal sexual conduct.” That means the city and Biden were comparing reported rapes in 2008 (103) with all acts of criminal sexual conduct (229), including rape. That’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. And in any case those numbers don’t support Biden’s other inaccurate claims — that rape has tripled and quadrupled. Jones did not readily have the figure for criminal sexual conduct cases in 2008 and answers to other outstanding questions, but she promised to get back to us and we will update this item more fully when she does.
As Jonah explains in his column today, Biden, with his penchant for “fuzzy math” and bald-faced demagoguery, really is an accurate reflection of his boss.