U.S. President Donald Trump doubled down on his attacks on the city of Baltimore at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio on Thursday night, this time saying the city’s homicide rate is worse than three Central American countries that migrants are currently fleeing for asylum in America.
There’s some truth in what he said — but it was hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, and there’s more to the story.
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“The homicide rate in Baltimore is significantly higher than El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala,” Trump told a rally at the US Bank Arena.
“I believe it’s higher than, give me a place that you think is pretty bad, give me a place, the guy says Afghanistan, I believe it’s higher than Afghanistan.”
Trump’s not wrong about Afghanistan — the most recent statistics from the World Bank show Afghanistan’s 2012 homicide rate at six per 100,000 population.
That puts the Asian country below several nations for that year, including Antigua and Barbuda (12 per 100,000), Haiti (10 per 100,000) and South Sudan (14 per 100,000).
However, to compare Baltimore (a city of about 600,000) against any country with a population of 6 million or more is hardly working with the same metrics.
Nor does it account for at least one other U.S. city that had even worse numbers in recent years.
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Baltimore’s homicide rate for 2018 was calculated by CBS at 51.3 per 100,000 for the year 2018.
That is indeed high compared to homicide rates in other cities.
A Pew Center report for 2017, meanwhile, saw Baltimore’s homicide rate hit 55.8 per 100,000, to rank second among American cities.
Baltimore’s homicide rate is higher than those in any of the Central American countries that Trump mentioned — but its population is also far lower than any of them.
Among those countries, El Salvador had the highest rate, with 51 homicides per 100,000 population in 2018.
That’s over 3,000 homicides in a country with more than 6 million people.
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Meanwhile, in Honduras, the homicide rate was 40 per 100,000 population — 3,310 incidents in a country of over 9 million people.
In Guatemala, the rate was 22.4 per 100,000 population, marking more than 4,000 homicides in a nation of over 16.5 million.
In other words, hardly a direct comparison.
Homicide rate per 100,000 population is a simple way to calculate the seriousness of criminality in a particular area — dividing the number of incidents by population — but it’s not the only way to do it.
In Canada, the government uses a tool called the Crime Severity Index (CSI), which weighs the seriousness of crime in particular areas in an effort to evaluate quality of life.
Baltimore certainly ranks highly on the list when using homicide rate per 100,000 — but the FBI cautions people about ranking cities at all.
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But even using this metric, Baltimore has not recorded the top murder rate among American cities in any year going back to 1985.
Which city has? St. Louis, Mo., which recorded a homicide rate of 66.1 per 100,000 population in 2017.
“St. Louis has had the nation’s highest big-city murder rate every year since 2014,” the Pew Center wrote.
Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans have all ranked in the top five in that time period, it added.
In warning against rankings, the FBI mentions other factors that affect rates, such as population, urbanization, family cohesiveness, citizens’ crime reporting practices and much more.