California vs. Florida: What you need to know before the Newsom-DeSantis debate

By Nigel Duara and Jeremia Kimelman 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stood on a debate stage in Simi Valley this fall and said three people — or was it seven? — walked up and told him they were mugged in California, part of what he insists is a crime wave sweeping blue states. 

Part of his pitch to be president is that his own state is a relative safe haven. “You look at cities around this country, they are awash in crime,” DeSantis said in his May campaign launch. “In Florida, our crime rate is at a 50-year low.”

Sure — but that figure relies on a bit of guesswork for more than one-third of the state’s population. And the data is more than two years old. And even that old data is still based on estimates for nearly one-quarter of the state. 

The Marshall Project reported last month that Florida police agencies covering 40% of the state’s population don’t report their numbers to the FBI. Instead, the state takes the real numbers it has and estimates the rest based on population. That includes homicides – meaning that no one, including DeSantis, can say with complete accuracy how many people were killed in his state in 2022. 

Or 2021, for that matter. Even two years after it collected crime data for its 2021 submission to the FBI, the state is still estimating crimes for 24.1% of the population.

That’s not the case in California — where law enforcement agencies also have a spotty record for reporting their crime statistics to the FBI. But California’s internal count at the state Justice Department provides a clear number: 2,206 homicides in 2022, 1,570 of them by guns. 

In 2021, the last year for which Florida statistics are available, the statewide homicide rate was 6.7 per 100,000 people. 

In California in 2021, it was 6 people per 100,000. In 2022, it was down to 5.7 per 100,000 people. The overall trend in California, however, was not good: Between 2017 and 2022, the homicide rate was up 24%. 

In Florida, the same trend applies, albeit less dramatically: Between 2017 and 2021, the homicide rate went up 16%, from 6.4 per 100,000 people to 7.4. 

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