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AP FACT CHECK: DeSantis wrong on Tallahassee crime rate

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a CNN debate against his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

During the first Florida gubernatorial debate between Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, DeSantis repeatedly said Gillum presides over a city that has the highest crime rate in the state. Crime statistics show that claim to be incorrect. Gillum countered that Tallahassee is at a five-year low in crime.

Crime has become a talking point for DeSantis and Republicans as they try to knock down Gillum’s momentum. The two also talked about differences on health care, taxes and guns. Gillum is trying to become the first Democrat to be elected Florida governor since 1994 and Republicans have had full control of state government since 1999. Florida is also the largest state that can swing either way in a presidential election, and the next Florida governor will be in a position to help or hurt his party’s nominee in the 2020 presidential election.

Here’s a look at the claims:

DESANTIS: “Under Mayor Gillum’s leadership Tallahassee is the most crime-ridden city in the entire state of Florida.” –October 22, 2018 debate

THE FACTS: DeSantis is wrong. Tallahassee is not even in the top 25 when it comes to city per-capita crime rates in Florida. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that Tallahassee had 5,765 crimes per 100,000 people in 2017.

By comparison, the city with the highest rate, Medley, had 28,004 crimes per 100,000 people, followed by Mangonia Park (14,215 crimes per 100,000 people), Chiefland (10,132 crimes per 100,000 people), Florida City (9,572 crimes per 100,000 people) and Lake Park (9,324 crimes per 100,000 people).

Tourist destinations like Miami Beach (9,149 crimes per 100,000 people), Orlando, (6,291 crimes per 100,000 people), Fort Lauderdale (6,187 crimes per 100,000 people), and Daytona Beach (6,965 crimes per 100,000 people) also topped Tallahassee.

Even Mexico Beach, the quiet beach town recently devastated by Hurricane Michael, had a higher crime rate than Tallahassee, with 6,572 crimes per 100,000 people. The same can be said of neighboring Panama City (7,256 crimes per 100,000 people).

Also, what isn’t factored into Tallahassee’s crime rate is the college population. Tallahassee has a population of 191,049 people. But it is also home to Florida State University and Florida A&M University, which combined have more than 42,000 students. Students from other cities and states who don’t list Tallahassee as a permanent residence aren’t included in the population when calculating crime statistics; however, crimes they might commit or be victims of would be included.

Similarly, Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, had a crime rate of 4,414 per 100,000 people, also far above the state average of 3,181 per 100,000 people.

Tallahassee is part of Leon County, which has the most crimes per capita out of the state’s counties, with a rate of 4,802 crimes per 100,000 last year. That’s because Tallahassee makes up the bulk of the county’s population, and the density pushes up the county’s overall crime rate.

GILLUM: “I preside right now over a city that is experiencing a five-year-low in our crime rate.”

THE FACTS: Gillum is correct that the crime rate is lower in Tallahassee than when he took office in 2014 — but the rate did spike since he was elected mayor, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics. In 2014 , Tallahassee had 5,834 crimes per 100,000 people. In 2016 it peaked at 6,727 crimes per 100,000 people before dropping to last year’s rate of 5,765 crimes per 100,000 people.

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