Jun 15, 2022 - Podcasts

Why we don't know how bad crime in the U.S. really is

Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies across the country failed to report their 2021 crime data to the FBI. That includes cities like New York and LA. And another 20% reported incomplete data, including the city of Chicago. That's all according to information provided to Axios local from a partnership with the Marshall Project.

  • Plus, President Biden's balancing act on Saudi Arabia
  • And, the value of encouraging our kids to debate

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler, Monica Eng and Erica Pandey.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Wednesday, June 15th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: why we don’t know how bad crime in the U.S. really is. Plus, the value of encouraging our kids to debate. But first: President Biden’s balancing act with Saudi Arabia… is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: The White House announced yesterday that President Biden will visit Saudi Arabia in July, where he is expected to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The White House wants to address sky high oil prices, but also faces pressure to hold Saui Arabia accountable on human rights. Here to explain what’s behind all of this is Axios world editor Dave Lawler. Hey Dave.


NIALA: Dave first, we heard different things yesterday from the US and Saudi Arabia about the purpose of the trip and who's meeting who?

DAVE: Yeah, so it was really interesting. I was on this briefing call that the White House did, to lay out the stops on the trip. And they said, he'll meet with “his Saudi hosts” and then asked who that was, he said King Salman the crown Prince's father and then eventually he said, and he'll probably see the crown prince. When the Saudis put out their own announcement, they said explicitly that Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would be meeting. And this was obviously the big question mark that was hanging out there ahead of this trip. Because Biden said on the campaign trail that he was ready to make Saudi Arabia a pariah over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and their human rights abuses. Now, as you said, oil prices are sky high, they have business that they wanna do with the Saudis and Biden is at this point willing to have a meeting with the crown prince, despite the criticism that they know is coming over this.

NIALA: Right and so this was a brutal assassination of a Washington Post columnist. What has been the Biden administration's response to criticism that this all seems to have gone out of the window, because of high oil prices?

DAVE: Yeah. So if we back up to the beginning of the administration, they did put out this document, basically blaming the crown prince, uh, saying he's responsible for what happened, to Jamal Khashoggi. So that criticism came early on, but there was also at the same time a recognition on the White House side that they were gonna have to, you know, interact with the Saudis. And so it was, how do you manage that? How do you both interact with the Saudis on things like Iran, which was one of the pressing issues, but also, you know, keep your distance from the crown prince himself. Now they've decided, I guess, that that's untenable and that Biden will be meeting with the crown prince. What they say is, “we've reset this relationship, but we don't wanna rupture this relationship.” Basically, there are US interests that are tied up in the relationship with Saudi Arabia and we don't want to undermine our own interests by isolating the crown prince. Obviously when the two shake hands, if there's a photographer in the room, that's a picture they don't want going around the world, but it's a decision that they've decided it's worth it to have this meeting.

NIALA: President Biden also plans to visit the occupie d West Bank during this trip and meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. What are we expecting to see out that meeting?

DAVE: So this could actually be a pretty tense meeting. Biden also promised during the campaign to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem that was the primary, you know, point at which diplomacy with the Palestinians took place. They have not done that mainly because of political pressure from the Israeli side. The Palestinians think that basically the Biden administration has bent over backwards to accommodate Israel, has not taken their needs into account as much as they would like. The White House has been conducting some diplomacy with the Palestinians ahead of the visit to try to reduce some of those concerns and to try to facilitate a more friendly meeting with Abbas. But the atmosphere is not particularly warm, heading into that meeting.

DAVE : Axios world editor, Dave Lawler. Thanks Dave.

DAVE: Thanks Niala.

NIALA In a moment, missing U.S. crime data makes it hard to fact-check politicians.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies across the country failed to report their 2021 crime data to the FBI. That includes cities like New York and LA. And another 20% reported incomplete data, including the city of Chicago. That's all according to information provided to Axios local from a partnership with the nonprofit, the Marshall Project and Axios Chicago reporter Monica Eng is here with more information. Hey Monica.

MONICA ENG: Hey Niala.

NIALA: So let's talk about Chicago. Chicago reported just half of its crime data from 2021. Why?

MONICA: Well, it was about seven months. Yeah, about half. And they said that they were, you know, transitioning to this new system. And by the time they got up and running with the new system, they only had seven months left to report. Why they didn't go back and report the other five months, they didn't tell us.

NIALA: Why did the switch happen to begin with?

MONICA: Well, the FBI wanted to move to a reporting system that gathered more specific information on each incident. And what we found by reporting this out in so many different areas where Axios local reporters are working, is that every different law enforcement agency, whether it's state or local or county, has sort of a different way of reporting these things.

NIALA: Is that the same explanation other cities have also given for why this data is so incomplete last year?

MONICA: Yeah, we're hearing a variety of reasons, but most of them have to do with the transition. Some in Peoria, for instance, in Illinois said that just last week, they finally got certified to start uploading because they had coding issues with their vendor. And you're hearing this across the state that it was this technical issue or this department not transferring it to this department. But others say, you know, guys, you had several years to make this change. Why were you just doing it at the last minute?

NIALA: Where else are we seeing gaps in other cities then? We mentioned New York, LA, Chicago. You mentioned Peoria. Is this happening all over the country?

MONICA: Yeah. I mean, our Philadelphia colleagues, um, said that they were told that, the Philly police department was unable to collect their data until the new reporting system went live in April. And De Moines, they said they moved to a new records management system that wasn't compatible with the Iowa system. When you look at the map that we have on axios.com, you see that some of the biggest problems are in Illinois, Florida, California, and then the area around Philadelphia and New York.

NIALA: This seems particularly problematic because crime is top of mind for many voters this year. We just saw this, for example, last week in the California primary, do we know as this becomes such a political talking point, if people are talking about the correct information?

MONICA: Well, I mean, without at least 40% of the department's reporting, you know, there is a big gap and that makes it harder to make claims. It makes it harder to analyze crime trends and it makes it harder to fact check claims that politicians are making about cities.

NIALA: Monica Eng is an Axios local reporter in Chicago. Thanks, Monica.

MONICA: Thank you.

NIALA: One last thing for you to think about today: Most parents want their kids to stop arguing. But it turns out, we might want to encourage them to do it more - when done systematically and respectfully, it can help develop leadership skills… Oprah Winfrey, multiple U.S. presidents and four Supreme Court justices were all high school debaters. I asked Axios’ Erica Pandey about her reporting on how debate skills help us become better at disagreeing… in a divided time.

ERICA PANDEY: So it turns out some of the most influential people we know, like Bruce Springsteen, like Ketanji Brown Jackson, like Indra Nooyi, were all high school debaters. And the reason high school debate is one of the most effective ways to prepare for leadership and influencing society is because you learn these critical skills. And that's what Bo Seo, who's a former Harvard debate coach, was writing about in his new book ‘Good Arguments’. We're all pretty terrible at disagreeing with one another doing so respectful. But debaters learn core tenants of arguments and breakdown, arguments into the physics of what's going on. Like what's the point? Why is it true? Who cares? And when you break it down to this, it becomes easier to be clear, to be persuasive and to see the other side. That’s Axios business reporter Erica Pandey.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Text me your feedback and story ideas: I’m at (202) 918-4893. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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