July 18, 2011
by Elizabeth Stuart
Violent crime along the U.S.-Mexico border is on the decline, according to a recent USA Today analysis.
U.S. border cities are statistically safer on average than other places in their respective states, according to the analysis, which drew upon data from more than 1,600 local law enforcement agencies, federal crime statistics and interviews in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
The murder and robbery rates in cities within 50 miles of Mexico's border were lower than the state average in nearly every year from 1998 to 2009, according to the report. The number of FBI kidnapping cases along the border fell from 62 in 2009 to 25 in 2010 and 10 so far in 2011.
"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, whose city is seven miles from Tijuana.
The study flies in the face of public perception. Eighty-three percent of Americans believe the rate of violence along the southwestern border is higher than the rest of the country, according to a recent Gallup Poll. Politicians have painted a bloody picture of America's southwestern border in recent months, telling stories of human skulls rolling through the desert and using words like "out of control" to describe the drug violence spilling out of northern Mexico.
"Of course there is spillover violence along the border," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said during a recent congressional hearing. "It is not secure and it has never been more violent or dangerous than it is today. Anyone who lives down there will tell you that."
When presented with the study, some saw the numbers as proof that the violence has been exaggerated to promote political agendas like "stalling efforts to pass a national immigration reform law" and "fueling stringent anti-immigration laws in Arizona and elsewhere," USA Today reported.
In Arizona, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor expressed frustration about reports of violence.
"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," he said.
Others maintain, though, that the study was not an accurate portrayal of the situation in border cities.
"I have families and citizens in my county, 70 miles north of the border, who don't feel safe in their homes," Phoenix Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told KTAR. "This is not a time to high-five and say everything is fine."