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These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Fact Check: NC trooper says violent crime at an 'all-time high'

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It’s time for our weekly fact check of North Carolina politics. This week, we’re turning to this year’s U.S. Senate race and a claim about levels of violent crime. The North Carolina Troopers Association has endorsed Republican congressman Ted Budd over his opponent Democrat Cheri Beasley, who is a former state Supreme Court Chief Justice. In a statement announcing the endorsement, association President Ben Kral said, “With violent crime at an all-time high, it is imperative we have a U.S. Senator who will support law enforcement.” For more, "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks to Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: First Paul, what all is considered violent crime?

Paul Specht: PolitiFact and other fact-checking organizations typically look to the FBI for the most reliable and comprehensive data on violent crime. And the FBI considers four offenses to be especially violent. Those include murder, manslaughter, non-negligent manslaughter. That is that's one category. And then there's rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Those are all in that category for the FBI's definition of violent crime.

Terry: OK so is Ben Kral right when said violent crime is at an all-time high?

Specht: No, he's not. Not from what we can tell. We haven't been able to find any evidence that crime is at an all-time high. And most people use FBI data and they have data going back to 1985 and then it stops at 2020. Their data, they don't release it until it's pretty comprehensive and that obviously takes time to compile and analyze and things like that.

But if you go on the FBI's website and click the links in our story, there's a chart and it shows the rate of violent crime through the years and the early 1990s were when it really peaked. And so they measure it, they measure violent crime in terms of violent crime cases per 100,000 people. That's how they determine the rate. There were about 398 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the U.S. in 2020. Compare that to 758 cases per 100,000 people in 1991, in 1992, or thereabouts. That's almost double what we saw in 2020.

Terry: What about the figures just for North Carolina?

Specht: They followed a similar arc over the years, one that you can see if you go to the FBI's website and look at the data. They have a line graph there that shows all this data. And North Carolina's violent crime rate in the year 2020 was 419 cases per 100,000 people. If we go back and look at the early nineties that North Carolina, like the U.S., had a violent crime rate that peaked in 1992 at 681 cases. So that's more than 200 more cases per 100,000 people. So we're still not close to that, at least not according to the FBI data that we have.

Terry: If the latest data only includes up to 2020, is it possible that violent crime has reached an all-time high in the last year or so?

Specht: We asked experts that exact question and they referred us to other researchers' reports from this year. Now, they're typically not as comprehensive as the FBI data, but what is available does not show violent crime at a record pace. They referred us to a group known as the Major Cities Chiefs Association. They tracked violent crime from 70 large U.S. cities. And it does show that rape and homicide cases were up during the pandemic. But in the first six months of 2022, there's actually been a reversal of that trend. Things are going down slightly.

We also referred to AH Datalytics, this is just a private firm that analyzes crime data. They look at crime in 90 cities. They found that homicide numbers were down 3.5% through the first half of 2022. And there's another group, the Council on Criminal Justice. They also examined monthly crime rates in 29 American cities. They saw similar trends. So we could not find just a solid metric of measurement showing a sharp increase and 2022, much less one that would be record-setting compared to those in the early 1990s.

Terry: Do we know why violent crime in North Carolina and the U.S. peaked in the early 1990s?

Specht: I asked them about that. One expert said it was in part due to crack cocaine and trafficking around that and gangs were just a little more active when that led to more violence. And police trends, and in recent years, policing strategies have changed, too. So that's changed a little bit. Of just how much violence we see on the streets.

Terry: Going back to Kral’s statement, did he provide any evidence supporting his claim?

Specht: One of the first things that we do when we fact-check someone is reach out to them and say, "Hey, what did you mean by this?" And I reached out to him by phone and I emailed his group, the North Carolina Troopers Association. Well, their executive director emailed me back and said there would be no comment at this time on our fact check. So we're sort of left wondering what he meant, what he was referencing. So for this particular fact check, we don't know. We had to go and just see what we could find. And this is where it left us.

Terry: So how did you rate this claim?

Specht: We rated it false. Without any strong evidence provided by Trooper Krall or experts, we're sort of left with no other option.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.