The claim: Poor education and high crime is caused by Democratic mayors
After months of protests against racial injustice in the United States, President Donald Trump deployed federal agents to Portland, Oregon, and announced plans to do the same in multiple other cities, citing a lack of law and order.
The president has consistently called for law and order, centering his reelection campaign around the stance and saying Democratic cities have been weak in their response to crime.
In May and June, during Black Lives Matter protests, Jacob Frey, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, was one of the first to get criticism from Trump for his handling of the unrest.
Amid this, a Facebook post from the group Reclaim America claimed that eight major U.S. cities — Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Philadelphia — have poor education and high crime rates because the cities have had Democratic mayors for several decades.
The page Reclaim America offers no contact information, so USA TODAY was not able to reach out for comment.
The post is accurate in its listing of when each city last had a Republican mayor. Atlanta has the longest streak; it has not had a Republican mayor since 1879.
However, it is misleading to blame mayors for the quality of education and crime rates in their cities because every level of government is involved to varying degrees.
The National League of Cities, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for cities and leaders, said the responsibilities of mayors include serving on city councils, voting in council meetings, appointing members to advisory boards and preparing the annual budget.
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How much influence do mayors have on education?
When it comes to education, the Center for Public Justice, an independent organization, said federal, state and local governments each play a role.
The federal government’s main involvement centers around funding, while state governments “exercise primary accountability and oversight for government-run schools.” The role of local governments involves the school board, which is composed of members who are elected by the voters or appointed by elected officials.
“Ultimately, the overall governance of the school district is done through the school board, not from the mayor,” said Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, legislative director of human development at the National League of Cities.
There are multiple factors outside of the school board that contribute to educational success, including hunger and poverty among other things, Martinez-Ruckman said.
School boards are responsible for “establishing curricula, hiring personnel, and deciding when schools should be closed, consolidated, or constructed,” according to the center, making them arguably the most important factor when determining the quality of education.
As state and local governments grapple with financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, schools — which are already underfunded in many localities — will likely face budget cuts.
“The fact of the matter is that cities are trying to do more with less,” Martinez-Ruckman said. ” … If there’s no resources to distribute, it almost doesn’t matter (who is in charge of distributing it).”
Yucel Ors, legislative director of public safety at the National League of Cities, said local governments are “the basis of every other part of the government … If one part of that (government) chain is not working well, we have a considerable problem for the rest of the country.”
Mayoral power and city crime
When it comes to the impact mayors have on crime, a study published in the academic journal Criminal Justice Policy Review found that while mayors “may not be able to reduce local crime, as the government leaders closest in proximity to voters, they feel pressured to at least pay lip service to the issue.”
“There’s no mayor or council member in the entire country, regardless of their political party, that doesn’t believe public safety is their number one concern when it comes to making sure their communities are safe,” Ors said.
There is not a single official with the ability to control crime rates, making it inaccurate to put the blame solely on mayors. The factors that influence crime rates vary widely and include funding, local and state programs and economic conditions.
Additionally, “(the role of a mayor) varies considerably by city,” Ors said. “Some mayors are strong mayors that have a lot more control … whereas other cities work together with mayors to pass ordinances, in many of the smaller cities and towns it could be a city manager that has more control over how things are financed and operated.”
While there isn’t one lone official who is responsible for a city’s crime, mayors do have a hand in factors that might influence the crime rate, including involvement in economic policies and appointing police chiefs.
However, the reach of their influence may be limited.
“There’s a lot of rules, regulations and laws in many states that prevent local governments from implementing certain rules or how they manage their agencies,” Ors said. “So, just because you have a mayor, because of the way our governments are, there could be state and federal laws that restrict local authority from helping to improve some of these conditions in their own cities.”
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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, some of factors that influence crime include:
Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability.
Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness.
Effective strength of law enforcement agencies.
Administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement.
Policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational).
Residents’ attitudes toward crime.
Residents’ crime reporting practices.
“To say that all of this falls on the shoulders of a mayor regardless of political party or size of the community is invalid,” Martinez-Ruckman said. “There’s a lot of these factors that go into public safety, education and all services that support a community.”
Our rating: Partly false
The claims in the post have been rated PARTLY FALSE. While the post is accurate in its listing of when each city last had a Republican mayor, it is incorrect to place the sole blame on mayors for the quality of education and the city’s crime rates.
When it comes to education, state governments are responsible for much of the funding of public schools. At the local level, school boards are the most important factor in determining the quality of a locality’s education.
Mayors have a hand in issues that might influence crime, like economic policies and the appointment of police chiefs. However, it is false to suggest that mayors are solely responsible for a city’s crime, because there are a wide variety of factors that influence crime rates. Further, different governing structures give mayors varying levels of power.
Our fact check sources:
The Center for Public Justice, How Are The Local, State And Federal Governments Involved In Education? Is This Involvement Just?
National League of Cities, Mayoral Powers
U.S. Department of Justice, 2001, THE ROLE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN COMMUNITY SAFETY
FBI, 2011 UCR report, Variables Affecting Crime
Interview with Martinez-Ruckman, NLC
Interview with Ors, NLC
National Center for Biotechnology, 2019, Poverty and Academic Achievement Across the Urban to Rural Landscape: Associations with Community Resources and Stressors
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Mayors alone can’t take blame for crime, poor education