El Paso Times
November 22, 2010
by Daniel Borunda
Despite being located across the border from one of the deadliest cities in the world, El Paso is the safest large city in the United States, according to rankings released Sunday.
Though the city has been ranked in the top three each year since 1997, this is the first time El Paso has taken the top spot for having the lowest crime rate among cities of more than 500,000 population in the annual rankings by CQ Press, a publishing firm based in Washington, D.C.
Government leaders, law enforcement officials and residents were thrilled with the new ranking.
"This isn't something that mystically or magically appeared," Police Department spokesman Darrel Petry said.
"This is something we have been striving for for the past 13 years. We truly attribute it to our relationship to the community - the trust."
The ranking was compiled with data from 2009 in the crime categories of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft. Detroit was ranked as having the highest crime rate.
El Paso Mayor John Cook said the new rank counters out-of-town misconceptions that El Paso is dangerous because of the drug cartel warfare that has engulfed neighboring Juárez for nearly three years.
National media often label the bloodshed in Mexico as "border violence."
Last year, there were more than 2,640 murders in Juárez, compared with 13 homicides in El Paso. This year, there have been more than 2,700 killings in Juárez and four homicides in El Paso.
El Paso government and business leaders often face concerns about safety while trying to lure industry, visitors and events to the Sun City.
"When we are in the midst of trying to convince people we are a safe city with all the violence in Juárez, it is extremely helpful," Cook said about the ranking. "... It's cool to be number one."
City crime rankings are not without controversy. The FBI, whose statistics are used to compile the list, has warned that such rankings do not take into account factors that shape crime, such as population density, youth demographics, climate and family cohesiveness.
Criminologists cite other factors, including studies that show cities with a high number of Hispanic immigrants tend to have low crime rates.
One theory by an Ohio State University researcher argues that murder rates are linked to trust in government and a sense of belonging. When trust fails, people settle their own scores violently.
CQ Press said many factors may influence crime but that does not mean that crime rates cannot be compared.
El Paso police officials were thrilled by the safest city ranking.
"This success could not have been accomplished without the hard work and dedication of each and every El Paso Police Department employee, sworn and civilian that work each day to make El Paso the safest place in the United States," Police Chief Greg Allen said in a statement.
Police also credit specialized units, including anti-gang teams that help stop the cycle of gang violence.
Allen said the fight against crime would not be successful without the assistance from other law enforcement agencies and residents.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said there are nearly 5,000 federal law enforcement officers in the El Paso area, including a large number of Border Patrol agents.
"Many people don't realize the large presence of federal officers we have," Reyes said in a statement. "But there are many federal agencies with significant resources here that share information and coordinate with our police and sheriff's officers on a daily basis."
Tina Gianes, president of the Neighborhood Watch Association of El Paso, said that crime is kept at bay by neighbors willing to get involved, report suspicious activity and work with police.
"It just goes to show we have a really good Police Department and a lot of citizens who take their neighborhoods seriously and watch out for each other," she said.
For 14 years, retiree Bill Medrano has lived in the middle-class Castner Heights area of the Northeast that is an example of that neighborhood-police partnership.
"I feel pretty safe in my community," Medrano said. "We have our neighborhood meetings. The police interact with us quite a bit. We know them on a first-name basis. We even have a bike patrol. They speak to students in our school."
Petry, the police spokesman, said it is possible El Paso can retain the number one ranking next year. Overall crime is down 1 percent this year compared to 2009.
Daniel Borunda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6102.
Lowest crime rate*
1. El Paso.
3. New York.
4. San Jose, Calif.
5. San Diego.
Highest crime rate*
3. Memphis, Tenn.
Source: CQ Press City Crime Rankings 2010-2011.
*Cities with more than 500,000 population