Fact-checking Fox News’ narrative on “America’s Crime Crisis”

The truth about rising crime is way more complicated than Fox makes it seem

Fox News kicked off 2022 by incessantly reporting on what the network called “America’s Crime Crisis.” Fox hosts and figures told their viewers the country is in the midst of a growing crime spike, which they declared was predominantly occurring in “liberal-run” cities. The network chose to blame the entire “crisis” narrative on efforts to reform policing, a “subculture of homeless” people, and prosecutorial decisions made by district attorneys who were allegedly funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Fox’s solution is to bring back “broken windows” policing, a theory that the physical appearance of a community -- including broken windows, graffiti, and loitering -- has an effect on crime rate, therefore law enforcement should aggressively police low-level crimes. But the coverage pushing this discredited policy ignores evidence that it hasn’t increased safety and has caused disproportionate policing of Black and Latinx people.

But the so-called “crime crisis” is much more complicated than Fox makes it seem. And while it may very well be years before the country understands exactly what has caused the increase in violent crime -- as was the case with the 1990s crime-rate increase -- there is no evidence that it’s related only to prosecutorial discretion or judicial system reforms.

Myth: The country is in the middle of a “crime wave”

  • During the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Fox News Primetime, host Lawrence Jones opened a segment featuring the chyron “New year, same crime crisis in America” by highlighting the number of homicides in Chicago. Jones later claimed, “We’re seeing straight-up anarchy in cities across America.”
  • Fox News’ Trace Gallagher hosted a segment about “America’s Crime Crisis'' during the January 4 edition of America’s Newsroom and interviewed a California gun store owner about how “this spike in crime has a lot of people running scared and everybody from prominent actors to real-estate moguls” is going to him “for help.” During the segment, Gallagher highlighted the crime statistics in Los Angeles and Hollywood, pointing out that homicides, robberies, and shootings increased from 2020 to 2021, before implying that the residents are desperate for guns.
  • During the January 6 edition of Fox News’ Fox News Primetime, Jones hosted a segment about Democrats’ “misplaced priorities,” claiming that as “lawlessness continues to run rampant in cities across America,” liberal lawmakers are more concerned with COVID-19 masks requirements than “punishing the people who harm us.”
  • While reporting on President Joe Biden’s upcoming press conference during the January 18 edition of Fox News’ The Story, anchor Martha MacCallum claimed that Biden would have “a lot to confront” in an upcoming press conference and one of the issues is “rampant and senseless crime in America.”

Fact: Fox is oversimplifying the narrative, and though violent crime increased, the rate of nonviolent crime such as burglary and larceny dropped

  • The FBI designates two different categories of crime: violent crime and property crime. Violent crimes are those that involve the use of “force or threat of force,” such as murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, and aggravated assault. Property crimes are offenses that involve “the taking of money or property, but there is no force or threat of force against the victims.” This can include burglary, larceny-theft, vehicle theft, and arson.
  • Measuring the nationwide crime rate is extremely complicated. The FBI measures national trends of violent crime and property crime in its annual Uniform Crime Report, as well as quarterly crime reports. The annual Uniform Crime Report data comes from voluntary submissions by “8,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.” To complicate things further, not only do police departments voluntarily report their data, but they can also choose not to report all 12 months.
  • The FBI has not yet released the crime report for 2021 and while this data from the bureau is the most comprehensive look at national crime trends, it’s not the only way to assess them. Some police departments release their crime statistics weekly compared to the year before, and some independently released their end of the year data for 2021.
  • Despite what Fox’s “crime wave” narrative implies, not all types of crimes have been increasing. Criminologist Jeff Asher from AH Analytics analyzed the available data and found that there was a roughly 3%-6% increase in murder rate nationally between last year and 2020. Asher also found that after a 15% increase in the beginning of 2021, “murder was … down in the second half of the year compared to the first.”
  • While showing a smaller increase, the FBI’s quarterly data through the third quarter of 2021 also suggests violent crime increased by 0.7%, yet property crime went down 0.5%. The downward trend is a continuation from 2020, when property crime dropped by 8% and violent crime increased by 5%.

Myth: This “crime wave” is happening mainly in “liberal-run” cities

  • During the January 3 edition of Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, anchor Harris Faulkner mentioned the homicide increase in Chicago in 2021 before adding, “It’s not just Chicago. Seventeen major U.S. cities broke homicide records last year; all but one are led by Democrat mayors.”
  • During the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, co-host Emily Compagno opened a segment by claiming that only “Democratic-run cities are seeing record crime numbers as we enter a new year.” Co-host Tomi Lahren added that the Democratic Party needs to “come out and say, we were wrong. We want to issue a blanket apology to all the law enforcement officers we spent the last five years demonizing.”
  • In a January 6 Fox & Friends segment about the Manhattan district attorney’s supposed “far-left prosecution agenda,” Fox’s Steve Doocy said, “New York City is not the same place it was two years ago when it comes to safety. People are terrified to walk the streets.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt agreed and added that this is why “thousands are moving out and moving down to safer, more Republican areas.”
  • In a “Fox News alert” during the January 18 edition of The Faulkner Focus, Faulkner said, “From coast to coast, crime is exploding in Democrat-run cities. American citizens are under siege.” During the alert, the in-studio screen displayed a graphic with the words “Blue-City Crime Crisis.”
  • During the January 15 edition of Fox News’ Unfiltered, host Dan Bongino mentioned that violent crime is spiking “particularly in blue cities” before grilling his guest, talk radio host Robert Patillo, to explain the spike in crime that is happening “specifically in liberal-run cities.”

Fact: While full data is not in yet for 2021, past trends show the homicide rate has increased nationwide

  • According to criminologist Jeff Asher, the murder rate in 57 cities in 2020 was up by about 37.6% and while crime trends in more populous cities do tend to exaggerate the national crime trends, the 2020 murder rate increased nationwide.
  • Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld called the 2020 murder increase “widespread” and said there were “very few cities that did not experience pretty significant rises in homicide during 2020.” It increased by 35% in cities with populations over 250,000 that reported full data and by 40% in cities with a population between 100,000 and 250,000. The increase was slightly smaller (25%) in cities with populations under 25,000.

Myth: The “crime wave” is a result of “progressive policies”

  • During the January 5 edition of Fox News Primetime, Fox’s Lawrence Jones said that “the new progressive district attorney is giving the greenlight to total anarchy” in New York City. Jones went on to describe the DA’s new policies, including not prosecuting drug possession and downgrading crimes to “something less severe like petty larceny.” Jones insisted these policies mean “it’s open season for criminals in New York City. The crime crisis we already have is about to get much worse. This is what happens when radical Democrats are elected to local offices.”
  • During the January 10 edition of Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, guest and conservative radio host Jason Rantz said, “Low-level crimes, which [New York City DA Alvin Bragg] is saying would get a pass, almost always lead to more serious crimes.” Rantz went on to say these policies aren’t about second chances but about “endless chances, and that’s a problem.”
  • During the January 10 edition of Fox News’ Your World, host Neil Cavuto claimed the country has seen criminal justice reform policies have “disastrous results” already and that if you “remove crimes for consideration, you just have more crimes for consideration.” Fox News contributor Ted Williams agreed and later said, “We’re giving the cities over to the criminals.”
  • During the January 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy said that “we’re worried about these prosecutors … going soft on crime” and specifically highlighted data from Chicago that more people charged with crimes are on “home monitoring” programs (as a result of bail reform policies). Co-host Brian Kilmeade listed similar policies in New York, including ones that downgrade some robberies to petty larceny and encourage against prosecuting people resisting arrest if they have no priors.
  • During a January 14 Outnumbered segment about Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-PA), who was carjacked in Philadelphia, co-host Emily Campagno pointed out that Scanlon was a proponent of criminal justice reform, including “defunding the police.” Co-host Kayleigh McEnany mentioned that Scanlon is one of the co-sponsors of the Mental Justice Health Act, which would allow mental health professionals to respond to certain scenarios rather than law enforcement. McEnany concluded, “Those policies are the reasons this is happening.”

Fact: Policies including bail reform and not prosecuting petty crime improve public safety, and a larger police force does not mean less crime

  • Prison Policy Initiative, a nonpartisan organization that researches the effects of mass incarceration, released a report in 2020 that found releasing people “pretrial” does not contribute to the crime rate. The study looked at four states and nine cities and counties where data exists before and after “pretrial reforms” were adopted and found all but one saw either a “decreases or negligible increases in crime” after implementing the reforms.
  • Several states and jurisdictions including New Mexico, New Jersey, Alaska, Washington, D.C., and Cook County, Illinois, “passed bail reform to varying degrees for misdemeanors offenses” years ago. But there is no evidence linking those reforms to any rise in crime.
  • A 2021 study of 67,553 cases in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, found that not being prosecuted for a nonviolent misdemeanor actually decreases the likelihood of a new arrest within two years, by 58%. The study found that the decrease over three years is even larger and the effect is biggest on first-time offenders.
  • A 2020 Washington Post “review of spending on state and local police over the past 60 years” found “no correlation nationally between spending and crime rates.” Similarly, according to a 2019 investigation by USA Today, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, and The Marshall Project, the number of police officers per 1,000 residents declined in the country over the past two decades and so did the violent crime rate. A former New York City Police Department official told USA Today that when the city decided to reduce the number of officers, the crime rate decreased. He concluded that it’s not the number of officers you have, but rather what you have them doing.

Myth: “Soros-funded” district attorneys are eroding public safety

  • On the January 6 episode of America Reports, co-anchor Sandra Smith falsely claimed that there is an “underground campaign to loosen up laws nationwide” and asked, “Why is George Soros hell bent on fundamentally reshaping American law and order?”
  • Later in the same edition of America Reports, Fox News ran a segment suggesting Soros was leading a conspiracy to elect “soft on crime” prosecutors, with the on-screen chyron reading: “Billionaire Soros Bankrolling Destructive DA’s.”
  • Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner pushed the Soros conspiracy theory in a segment on the January 10 edition of her show The Faulkner Focus, where she played a clip from a former NYPD commissioner arguing that Soros is destroying the U.S. criminal justice system. She then asked conservative talk radio host Jason Rantz to talk about “George Soros' input in all of this. And we know about the cash, because he has a lot of that.”
  • Fox host Brian Kilmeade told the anchors of America Reports on January 10 that Soros had given $1 million to Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s campaign. Kilmeade listed other cities where he claimed without evidence that Soros had influenced prosecutorial elections, stating that “this is not a conspiracy theory, this is true,” and argued that Soros’ supposed influence is causing “chaos.”
  • During a Fox News Primetime segment on January 10, guest and New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani connected Soros to Bragg’s campaign. Host Rachel Campos-Duffy said, “There is blood on George Soros' hands.”
  • After criticizing Bragg on the January 11 episode of her show, Faulkner again pushed the Soros conspiracy theory, claiming that Soros “dumped so much cash for this and other DAs in liberal cities like San Francisco and L.A. The voters must have fallen for some of that.”
  • Campos-Duffy again attacked Soros on the January 16 edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, saying “these liberal, woke DAs have been funded by people like George Soros” in places like New York City, which she claimed is “under siege with crime.”
  • On the January 19 edition of her show, Faulkner promoted the Soros conspiracy theory yet again, blaming “liberal-leaning DAs who got funding from George Soros” for causing an uptick in homicides because they want to “protect the criminals” and the victims, but they “talk more about the criminals and protecting them.”

Fact: This narrative that Soros is controlling DAs is an antisemitic conspiracy theory with no basis in reality

  • Soros, a Hungarian billionaire, philanthropist, and Holocaust survivor, does make sometimes sizable campaign contributions to local and federal elections. In May 2021, he donated $1 million to the organization Color of Change, which helped fund Bragg’s campaign. But Bragg’s opponent outraised him by a huge margin, partly by spending over $8 million of her own money on her campaign and through large donations from finance and real estate big wigs.
  • Soros is hardly the only wealthy individual donating to political campaigns. In 2020, he wasn’t even among the top 30 individual campaign donors.
  • Focusing solely on Soros’ campaign contributions and portraying him as controlling local officials nationwide is part of a baseless antisemitic trope rooted in the bigoted conspiracy theory that rich Jewish people like Soros control the world. It’s been circulating on internet cesspools for years and has also been promoted by various right-wing figures.
  • Right-wing pundits have falsely claimed Soros is behind everything from Black Lives Matter protests to antifa to fraudulent voting conspiracies. The shooter who killed 11 people at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh believed conspiracy theories about Soros attempting to undermine the U.S.

Myth: The U.S. needs to bring back “broken windows” policing

  • In a January 6 segment of America Reports that pushed the Soros conspiracy theory and criticized Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s decision to seek jail or prison time only for very serious crimes unless the law required otherwise, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said New York’s current policies aren't working. She added, “What did work in New York to clean up the streets was a broken window policy under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.”
  • Criticizing Bragg’s incarceration policy on January 6, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade called the prosecutor’s approach “anti-broken window syndrome, where you prosecute the small crime and you stop the big crime.”
  • In a January 10 interview on Fox & Friends, Fox host and former police officer Dan Bongino said a lot of people who commit low-level offenses like subway fare evasion go on to commit larger crimes like robbing people on the train. He claimed, without evidence, that “if you let the little stuff go and you foster an environment of permissiveness on criminality, the bigger stuff happens later — the murders, the rapes, the violent assaults.”
  • On January 18, The Five co-host Geraldo Rivera blamed “woke DAs” for ignoring the “small stuff,” which in Rivera’s telling leads to more violent acts like the killing of Michelle Go, an Asian American woman who died after a man shoved her in front of a subway car in New York City. Rivera said, “If you don't go for the kid jumping the turnstile in the subway, … you will have that nut job that pushes the Asian woman onto the tracks.” He also absurdly claimed that “we need a cop on every subway station, a cop on every train” to prevent violence.

Fact: Broken windows has had no effect on crime, but has resulted in disproportionate policing of people of color

  • The premise of the broken windows policy is flawed: A 2019 Northeastern University study found no link between the physical appearance of, and order in, a community and the likelihood that residents will commit violence.
  • PBS’ Frontline reported in 2016 that the NYPD inspector general’s office found “no evidence” that policies predicated on the broken windows theory were what caused the city’s declining crime rates between 2010 and 2015. Even the originator of what became known as broken windows policing said his theory had been misapplied, telling Frontline, “There’s been a lot of things done in the name of Broken Windows that I regret.”
  • The New York Civil Liberties Union found that in 2011, at the height of the “stop-and-frisk” policy in New York, which was inspired by the broken windows theory, the NYPD recorded over 685,000 stops. Among those, 9 out of 10 people had committed no crime at all, and over half were Black, in a city that was only 23% Black around the time.
  • The NYCLU also found that between 2014 and 2017, Black and Latinx people were more likely to be frisked than white people and, among those frisked, “were less likely to be found with a weapon”; 93% of people who were frisked didn’t have a weapon on them.
  • According to the ACLU of Illinois, from May through August of 2014, Black Chicagoans represented 72% of those stopped by police, even though they made up just 32% of the city population at the time.

Myth: Homeless people are causing a crime wave and pose a threat to society

  • On a January 19 episode of America’s Newsroom discussing the death of Michelle Go, an Asian American woman in New York City who was allegedly killed by a homeless man, anchor Dana Perino claimed that if homeless people remain on the streets, they will eventually “harm someone else, an innocent person,” adding that many cities are “overrun with homeless.”
  • Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade falsely claimed on January 19 that American cities are experiencing a huge crime wave and that “a lot of this has to do with [the] homeless.” He later claimed that cities like San Francisco and New York are “riddled with the subculture of homeless hooked on some type of drugs, in many cases mentally deranged.”
  • While discussing Go’s death and other recent killings on the January 18 edition of America Reports, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Rafael Mangual criticized efforts to destigmatize mental illness, claiming that New York City’s mental health system has failed to “incapacitate people who pose a danger to themselves and others” and that “everything needs to be on the table. That includes incarceration but also involuntary institutionalization.” Co-anchor Sandra Smith agreed and added that Go’s death would scare off “very necessary people” who “fled during the pandemic” and haven’t returned because they “fear crime on the streets here.”
  • In a January 18 segment on America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones said “while they figure out” the mental health system in major cities, “if someone is a risk to society, they have to be locked up. That is what … our incarceration system is for.” He added, without evidence, that homeless people have “their own criminal justice system out there where they have people that patrol the streets that are criminal.”

Fact: Unhoused people are more likely to be the victims of crime

  • Unhoused people are much more likely than housed people to be victims of violent crime. One study of unhoused people in five U.S. cities found that 30% reported having been the victim of a violent attack within the past 30 days. Advocates say the rate of violence against unhoused people is on the rise.
  • An uptick in the unhoused population isn’t correlated with rising crime. A recent study by the Guardian showed that after unhoused people established encampments in 11 locations in Portland and Seattle, nine of the locations experienced a decrease in crime. While the rate of homelessness increased 14% in Los Angeles in 2019 and 16% in 2020, crimes involving homeless people (as victims or suspected perpetrators) increased by less than 0.5% between 2019 and 2020, according to an ABC7 investigation.
  • Unhoused people are more likely than housed people to have interactions with police, but this is largely because their lives are criminalized through laws against camping, living in vehicles, begging, urinating in public, sharing food, dumpster diving, and vague offenses such as “loitering” or “vagrancy.”
  • The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that the number of laws against homelessness has increased in recent years. Between 2006 and 2019, for instance, the number of city laws against sleeping in public has gone up 50%. In the same period, laws against loitering, loafing, and vagrancy have increased 103%.
  • The National Law Center and the Urban Institute suggest directly providing people with housing (rather than criminalizing unhoused people’s existence) reduces homelessness in the long term and is less expensive for taxpayers.