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Wisconsin Watch partners with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Read our methodology to learn how we check claims.


By at least one measure Milwaukee’s violent crime rate exceeds the national average, but the comparison is misleading, criminologists told Wisconsin Watch.

It’s difficult “to make sweeping statements without context,” said University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Theodore Lentz.

The website 24/7 Wall St. reported that 2020 FBI data for violent crime — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — showed Milwaukee had 1,597 violent crimes for every 100,000 people, compared to 399 incidents per 100,000 nationwide.

By that metric Milwaukee’s rate is 300% higher.

“But it’s not really fair to compare a large city to the national rate, which will also include suburbs and rural areas, so it’s not a statistic that is particularly meaningful on its own,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Aaron Chalfin.

Lentz said that even comparing similar-size cities has pitfalls because of differences in reporting and other factors.

The FBI warns against using its data to rank cities.

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.


24/7 Wall St: Milwaukee, WI Reported One of the Highest Murder Rates in the US – 24

FBI: Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics: Their Proper Use

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Tom Kertscher joined as a Wisconsin Watch fact checker in January 2023 and contributes to our collaboration with the The Gigafact Project to fight misinformation online. Kertscher is a former longtime newspaper reporter, including at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked as a self-employed journalist since 2019. His gigs include contributing writer for Milwaukee Magazine and sports freelancer for The Associated Press.