The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump says crime in Germany is way up. German statistics show the opposite.

From left: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the Group of Seven summit in Canada. (Ian Langsdon/Pool photo via AFP/Getty Images)

In the midst of a domestic battle over his own administration's strict immigration policy, President Trump took aim at Germany's Angela Merkel on Monday — arguing in a tweet that the German chancellor's more open policies toward migration and refugees have led to a crisis in her government coalition.

But in making his argument against Merkel's “big mistake,” Trump claimed that crime in Germany was “way up.”

Trump followed up this tweet with another on Tuesday, claiming that "officials do not want to report" that crime in Germany is up 10 percent. The U.S. president did not provide a source for this claim.

That claim is not supported by publicly available information. In fact, reported crime in Germany was down by 10 percent last year, according to government statistics. And notably, Merkel's biggest challenger on immigration policy is on record as saying just last month that crime in Germany was the lowest it has been in decades.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer released new crime figures in May that pointed to an overall decline in Germany during the past year. The figures showed that 5.76 million crimes were reported in 2017 — a drop of 10 percent from 2016 and the lowest number since 1992. Given the increases in Germany's population, Seehofer told reporters in Berlin, this meant that Germany's reported crime rate was at the lowest it has been for three decades.

To put it simply, “Germany has become safer,” Seehofer said.

Seehofer is the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), a hard-right Bavarian party that has long been a crucial coalition partner for Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In defiance of the German chancellor, Seehofer is seeking to impose new border controls on the country — a move that could cause her coalition government to collapse.

Late on Monday, after the U.S. president's tweet, Seehofer offered Merkel a temporary reprieve and said he would not implement the new controls for two weeks. That could allow Merkel to reach deals with other European nations on migration, rather than unilaterally turn back migrants at the border.

Trump has a history of tweeting inaccurate statements about crime and immigration in Europe. However, it may not be surprising that Trump sees crime rising in Germany when in fact it appears to be falling — a considerable number of Germans feel the same way. One poll conducted in April, for example, found that 41 percent of the country felt that they were less safe in public spaces than five years ago. Fifty-one percent, however, felt nothing had changed.

A study from last year found that much of the blame lay with media organizations, which often tend to focus on migrant-related crime rather than crime by German citizens.

A close reading of German crime statistics does offer a complicated picture of crime trends. There has been a sharp rise in the number of non-German suspects interviewed by police in Germany over the past five years, for example. And although violent crime dropped 2.4 percent last year, it had already risen by 6.7 percent between 2015 and 2016.

There is certainly no doubt that the wave of more than a million refugees and migrants who arrived in Germany in 2015 and 2016 changed the country, resulting in strained relations between German citizens and their new guests. However, despite concern about immigration, Merkel probably remains Germany's most popular political leader, with a 50 percent approval rating this month.

Trump, meanwhile, continues to be viewed negatively by many Germans. In the same poll that reported Merkel's high approval rating, 87 percent of Germans surveyed expressed concern that the U.S. leader was exacerbating international conflicts.

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This post has been updated to reflect President Trump's new tweet and correct an error that suggested that reported crimes in Germany had dropped by 5 percent, when in fact they had dropped by 10 percent.