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Sean Spicer gave a press conference recently in which he gave the distinct impression that sanctuary cities have more crime than other cities because of their sanctuary status.

President Trump said it outright recently:

“Sanctuary cities, as you know, I’m very much opposed to sanctuary cities,” said Trump in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly. “They breed crime. There’s a lot of problems.”

I would bet many people believe it.

In a Yahoo article, the author insists there's little evidence for the claim, but I noticed the data quoted is about illegal immigrants committing crime, not about crime in sanctuary cities.

So is there a correlation? Or is there a causation? Is there any link at all between crime rates and sanctuary city status?

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    All cities breed crime, that is, crimes happen everywhere, even in the most strictest societies. – Mohammad Sakib Arifin Apr 1 '17 at 3:56
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    Not a bad question, but I suspect confounding factors will be an issue. – Andrew Grimm Apr 1 '17 at 4:13
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    @zkl_zkl_ Again, the claim is that sanctuary cities have more crime. Then they blame it on something. The something is a secondary claim. So primary claim: do sanctuary cities have more crime. Secondary claims: do sanctuary cities have more illegal immigrants, and if yes to previous claims, are the immigrants the cause of the increased crime? We can't evaluate the secondary claims until the primary claim is proved. Is it even true that sanctuary cities have more crime? – fredsbend Apr 1 '17 at 15:42
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    @DaveSherohman most immigration violations are civil offences, so they are not crimes. Furthermore, most immigration crimes are committed at the border, and most cities are not on the border, so the fact that someone who has committed an immigration crime is in a given city does not increase the crime rate in that city. Finally, the point of sanctuary cities is not to have more illegal immigrants, but rather to enable people to report crimes without fear of triggering a victim's or witness's deportation, so maybe some crime is going unreported in non-sanctuary cities. – phoog Apr 3 '17 at 8:50
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    @DaveSherohman of course you are correct. Even if we restrict ourselves to violent felonies, what would one make of a city where murders rose but armed robberies declined, or vice versa? It's very easy to make broad hand-waving assertions about "the crime rate" and we should certainly demand specifics about the claims being made -- especially here on Skeptics. – phoog Apr 3 '17 at 16:13
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There is at least one study (PDF) that did not find a statistical difference. In their own words:

“We find no statistically discernible difference in violent crime rate, rape, or property crime across the cities,” the researchers concluded. “Our findings provide evidence that sanctuary policies have no effect on crime rates, despite narratives to the contrary.”

One of the study’s co-authors, Ben Gonzalez O’Brien, a professor of political science at Highline College, told us via email that this study and others have found no support for Trump’s claim.

“In past statements, Trump has cited individual instances of crime, such as the Kathryn Steinle shooting in San Francisco, rather than any evidence that sanctuary cities ‘breed crime,'” Gonzalez O’Brien said. “If this was the case we would expect to see higher crime rates in sanctuary cities when compared to cities with similar demographic characteristics, or an increase in crime after a sanctuary declaration was made. In our research, we have found no support for either of these propositions. There is no generalizable or statistical evidence that crime increases after a city becomes a sanctuary.”

Of course, they are talking about something different than what Donald Trump is claiming. They are talking about broad overviews in non-experimental context (i.e. instead of dividing cities randomly into sanctuary/non-sanctuary, the cities divide themselves). Trump is discussing individual events, e.g. Kate Steinle's death. If that particular illegal immigrant who was not deported as a result of a sanctuary policy had been deported instead, that particular victim would likely still be alive.

According to the first paragraph of that quote, they've also debunked the competing narrative that sanctuary cities have less crime because immigrants are more willing to work with authorities. Or the narrative that sanctuary cities have more reported crime (if not necessarily more actual crime) because immigrants are more willing to work with authorities. The net impact on crime is not statistically significant in either direction.

Perhaps multiple narratives are true but they cancel each other. Or perhaps this study is flawed (in either direction). Crime studies are inherently difficult, as laws don't lend themselves to experimentation.

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    Did you look for any studies that favor the claim? – fredsbend Apr 1 '17 at 21:37
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    @fredsbend I looked for both but didn't find any countering studies on crime rates. People making the alternate argument tend to cite by example instead. I.e. they tend to support the narrative, not claims about the overall rate. That suggests but does not prove that they can't. – Brythan Apr 2 '17 at 0:33
  • I've decided this is a pretty great answer ... Two years later, lol – fredsbend Sep 9 at 22:57

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