Data: No spillover violence in U.S. border cities
A May 2006 file photo of the wall separating Mexico (left) from the United States in Nogales, Arizona. / Jeff Topping/Getty Images
Despite the colorful and headline-grabbing statements of politicians about a rising "spillover" effect of Mexican drug cartel violence within the United States, an analysis of federal crime statistics show border cities are safer than other areas of the states along the U.S. southern border - and are even safer than the U.S. national average.
Writing in USA Today, Alan Gomez, Jack Gillum and Kevin Johnson report that such talk of an "out of control" area likened to a war zone does not match the data.
The paper analyzed detailed crime data from the past decade from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and found that U.S. border cities were statistically safer on average than other cities in those states, and had lower crime rates than the national average. Murder rates were lower, as were robbery rates, and kidnapping cases have been on the decline.
Rather than seeing a spike in violence in the border region (Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, at a May 2011 congressional hearing: "It has never been more violent or dangerous than it is today. Anyone who lives down there will tell you that"), the crime rate has been falling for years - predating the expansion of security assets along the border.
The paper notes that while the rhetoric of border violence may not match the reality, it has nonetheless helped drive the national debate on such issues as immigration and the expenditure of federal dollars on security.
Yet the perception among the majority of Americans that violence in border cities is higher than the country in general is high (83 percent, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll).
Criminologist and University at Albany-SUNY sociology professor Steven Messner calls the results of the analysis "contrary to conventional speculation that the border is an out-of-control place."
Others read the numbers as proof the issue of "spillover violence" from Mexico is being exaggerated and used as an impetus for anti-immigration legislation and stepped-up federal and state funding to law enforcement agencies along the border.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told USA Today that the analysis illustrates "the ugliest version of the politics of fear that our country has seen for quite a while."
Some local law enforcement officials concurred with USA Today's report. "Over the last five years, whether you take a look at violent crime or property crime, we've seen a 30 percent decrease," said Chula Vista (Calif.) Police Chief David Bejarano.
In Arizona, the epicenter of the immigration debate since the state passed a tough immigration enforcement law last year, some police officials are frustrated by the rhetoric.
"Everything looks really good, which is why it's so distressing and frustrating to read about these reports about crime going up everywhere along the border, when I know for a fact that the numbers don't support those allegations,"
Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villase?or said it was "frustrating" to read reports of rising crime along the border, "when I know for a fact that the numbers don't support those allegations,"
But not all local officials buy the data's findings.
"Don't tell me that the violence isn't spilling over," Pinal County (Ariz.) Sheriff Paul Babeu told the paper. "When you have American citizens who don't feel safe in their own home or free in their own country, this should be appalling to everyone."
For more on the story and how the data was analyzed, visit USA Today.
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