Schuette video gets warning for claim of 1,000 new cops

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts



Who:Bill Schuette for Attorney General
What:"Schutte - Fighting Violent Crime" 15-second TV ad
The call:Warning

Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has made tough stands on crime a hallmark of his campaign for a second term. He faces Democrat Mark Totten, a law professor at Michigan State University and a former special assistant federal prosecutor. In the ad, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard speaks directly to the camera about Schuette's push for a law to keep violent offenders behind bars for 25 years and for 1,000 more cops. The words “25 Year Penalties” and “1,000 Cops” flash on the screen. Schuette is then seen at a shooting range speaking to a law enforcement officer, as other officers take aim at silhouette targets behind him.

Relevant text of the ad:

“To fight violent crime, Attorney General Bill Schuette pushed a new law to keep repeat violent offenders behind bars for 25 years and for a thousand new cops to enforce it.”

Statements under review:

“Attorney General Bill Schuette pushed a new law to keep repeat violent offenders behind bars for 25 years...”

No problem with the facts here. In January 2012, Schuette announced plans to put more cops on the street and toughen sentences for repeat violent offenders. Under his plan, criminals with three previous felonies who commit a violent crime would get no less than 25 years in prison. “Violent crime is a problem in and of itself. It also affects job growth, education; really, any quality of life issue,” Schuette spokesman Rusty Hills said at the time. Critics called the measure unnecessary and expensive. “We oppose mandatory minimums in general,” said Barbara Levine, executive director of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons & Public Spending. “It takes away discretion from judges to tailor sentences as appropriate to individuals...” The sentencing measure was introduced in the state Senate in May 2012 by GOP Sen. Rick Jones. A revised version passed 98 to 10 in the House and 32 to 6 in the Senate and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Sept. 30, 2012.

“...and for a thousand new cops to enforce it.”

This ad gets a bit dodgy here. It is certainly true that Schuette has called for 1,000 more cops. He said the plan would cost $140 million over two years, advocating that the state use part of a projected $450 million budget surplus to pay for it. But Snyder failed to include the proposal that year in his February executive budget proposal. Schuette continued to push for it, saying: “It’s so important that we understand that there cannot be a complete economic recovery in the state of Michigan unless we’ve fulfilled our first obligation of government, and that means public safety.” But he never got his thousand cops. In January 2011, when Schuette took office, there were 20,215 law enforcement positions and 19,675 filled. As of September 2014, there were 19,258 positions and 18,598 filled. That's a drop of more than 1,000 filled law enforcement positions.

For Truth Squad, the question becomes: Does the video falsely imply that Schuette secured laws for longer prison terms for repeat offenders and to put 1000 new cops on the street? The ad doesn't flat out say that Schuette put a thousand cops on the street. But it certainly leaves that impression, especially when one views the words “1,000 Cops” on the screen followed by Schuette standing with law enforcement officers at a shooting range.

The call:Warning

In a strict sense, the words of the ad are factual. Schuette did push for – and the Legislature passed – a law that cracks down on violent offenders. Schuette also pushed for 1,000 more cops on the street. But that proposal never became law; in fact, there are more than 1,000 fewer officers today than when Schuette took office. The ad makes it easy to believe Schuette got that job done as well.

That Bouchard uses the word “law” rather than “bill” before touting the two issues is telling. A bill is a proposal that the legislature is considering. A bill does not become a law until it is passed and takes effect. Viewers of this ad can thus be forgiven for concluding that both measures eventually became law (when in fact, only one did), especially with the words “1,000 cops” flashing on the screen.

How might Schuette’s campaign have made it clearer that one proposal became law while the other one did not? By searching its own archives. Back in March, in Schuette’s press release announcing he would run for re-election, he took pains to distinguish what he accomplished from what he merely aimed to accomplish to deter violent crime. The Bouchard video took no such care. Truth Squad concludes this ad conflates the two issues in a way that could easily mislead or be misconstrued by voters, which meets the Truth Squad definition of a warning. Its slickness is palpable.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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