RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — One of the pillars of Marjorie Eastman’s campaign platform for North Carolina’s open seat in the Senate has been cracking down on crime.

But are crime rates really as bad as she portrayed them in a recent interview?

THE CLAIM: In an exclusive interview last month with CBS 17 News, Eastman said “the rise in crime has been the highest in four decades.”

THE FACTS: We took that strong claim to two experts on crime — and both say it’s more true than false.

“I think what’s true is that the increase in murder was the largest that we’ve ever seen in recorded history,” said Philip Cook, a Duke professor emeritus of public policy and an expert in crime and crime prevention.

Added James Brunet, an assistant professor of public administration at N.C. State: “It’s broadly accurate, if I could say that.”

Because Eastman’s claim was short on specifics, we asked her campaign what she was referring to. Campaign spokeswoman Katie Martin pointed out three news stories from late in 2021 that break down the trends nationally, as opposed to across the state. 

One from the New York Post points out 12 cities that last year set annual murder records by early December. None of those cities are in North Carolina.

But federal crime data cited in another story indicates that Eastman may actually be understating it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reported the highest increase in rates of homicide in modern history, saying they rose 30 percent between 2019 and 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That surpassed the increase of 20 percent from 2000 to 2001 due to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.S. homicide rate increased from about six for every 100,000 people in 2019 to 7.8 a year later, according to the data, which also show only three states — Maine, New Mexico and Alaska — showing declines.

Brunet cautions not to read too much into short-term trends in favor of those that “involve more than one or two data points.

“So it’s really hard to attribute that, ‘Yes, we’re rising or falling’ from a one-year change,” he added. “We’d like to look at things, at least when it comes to crime, over decades of time.”

Explaining the year-over-year increase isn’t easy, both experts said.

“We don’t really know what we’re seeing this one-year or two-year increase in homicides,” Brunet said.

“That’s it makes it a little bit difficult to say, ‘OK, well then … if we don’t know exactly how to diagnose this, then what are the solutions?’ Brunet added. “What are the remedies? It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to address it, though, as a public policy concern.”

Cook calls it a “complicated answer.”

“It’s not anything that we were predicting,” he said. “One thing that should be clear is that it was almost all gun murders that went up. The non-gun murders did not, particularly during that time.

“But there were other ways in which 2020 was just the year from hell,” Cook continued, citing the protests of George Floyd’s death against overaggressive law enforcement and the high tensions that surrounded the presidential election that year.

“It seems like people have lost their moorings and it’s hard to say exactly what the different mix of explanations is for that,” Cook said. “But it’s a real thing.”