Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

U.S. border cities prove havens from Mexico's drug violence

Friday, July 15, 2011 |

USA Today
By Alan Gomez, Jack Gillum, and Kevin Johnson

The picture painted of America's southwestern border with Mexico is a bloody one, in which the drug violence decimating northern Mexico has spilled onto U.S. soil and turned the region into a war zone.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has warned of human skulls rolling through her state's deserts. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, says violence on the U.S. side of the border is "out of control." Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., has suggested sending a military brigade to protect Americans.

"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."

That's not actually the case, according to a USA TODAY analysis that draws upon more than a decade of detailed crime data reported by more than 1,600 local law enforcement agencies in four states, federal crime statistics and interviews along the border from California to Texas.

The analysis found that rates of violent crime along the U.S.-Mexico border have been falling for years — even before the U.S. security buildup that has included thousands of law enforcement officers and expansion of a massive fence along the border.

U.S. border cities were statistically safer on average than other cities in their states. Those border cities, big and small, have maintained lower crime rates than the national average, which itself has been falling.

The appearance of an out-of-control border region, though, has had wide-ranging effects — stalling efforts to pass a national immigration reform law, fueling stringent anti-immigration laws in Arizona and elsewhere, and increasing the amount of federal tax dollars going to build more fencing and add security personnel along the southwestern border.

The perception of rising violence is so engrained that 83% of Americans said they believe the rate of violence along the southwestern border is higher than national rates, according to a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 999 adults.

The findings "are contrary to conventional speculation that the border is an out-of-control place," said Steven Messner, a criminologist and sociology professor at the University at Albany-SUNY, who reviewed USA TODAY's analysis.

Some observers say the numbers don't reflect realities on the ground and give cover to a federal government that is not adequately protecting hundreds of border communities.

"Don't tell me that the violence isn't spilling over," said Pinal County (Ariz.) Sheriff Paul Babeu. "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."

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.

"The data really spells out the irresponsibility of many of our elected leaders in their role in this immigration debate," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which backs a plan to legalize some of the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. "This is the ugliest version of the politics of fear that our country has seen for quite a while."

Mining the data
For this story, USA TODAY studied crime trends along the U.S.-Mexico border, using data reported to the FBI from city and county police agencies in the four border states — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

It found that violent crime rates were on average lower in cities within 30, 50 and 100 miles of the border — the distances used to fit various definitions of the "border region." Statisticians interviewed by USA TODAY confirmed the results.

Because the data reported by the local agencies does not include kidnapping, the newspaper also had the FBI review its kidnapping investigations along the border.

Among the major findings:

The murder rate for cities within 50 miles of the border was lower in nearly every year from 1998 to 2009, compared with the respective state average. For example, California had its lowest murder rate during that time period in 2009, when 5.3 people were murdered per 100,000 residents. In cities within 50 miles of the border, the highest murder rate over that time period occurred in 2003, when 4.6 people were murdered per 100,000 residents.

The robbery rate for cities within 50 miles of the border was lower each year compared with the state average. In Texas over that time span, the robbery rate ranged from 145 to 173 per 100,000 people in the state, while the robbery rate throughout Texas' border region never rose above 100 per 100,000.

Kidnapping cases investigated by the FBI along the border are on the decline. The bureau's Southwestern offices identified 62 cartel-related kidnapping cases on U.S. soil that involved cartels or illegal immigrants in 2009. That fell to 25 in 2010 and 10 so far in 2011.

When presented with USA TODAY's findings, a majority of law enforcement officials throughout the border region said the numbers accurately represent what they see.

"Over the last five years, whether you take a look at violent crime or property crime, we've seen a 30% decrease," said Chula Vista (Calif.) Police Chief David Bejarano, whose city is 7 miles from Tijuana.
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 Villaseñor said.

And in Texas, El Paso has seen sharp declines in violent crimes despite being in the shadow of Ciudad Juárez, one of the main battlegrounds of Mexico's drug wars where 3,400 people were murdered last year.
"I'm not trying to paint a picture here that nothing ever happens, because it does," El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said. "But some have tried to suggest that El Paso is a violent city just because of its location.

Unfortunately, some people's misperceptions have become their reality."
Unreported crime
Critics express doubts about the credibility of the FBI data, known as the Uniform Crime Reports, the government's only national repository for local crime data.

One concern is that many crimes go unreported, and the FBI reports don't include some of the money-making crimes used frequently by Mexican drug cartels: kidnapping and extortion.

"There's actually a private industry that negotiates ransoms with kidnappers," said San Diego Sheriff's Dept. Capt. David Myers, who heads the office's Border Crime Suppression Team. "There are actual people you can call who can negotiate that ransom for you if your loved ones have been kidnapped, without involving law enforcement."

But the available data indicate kidnappings are on the decline.

FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins, who heads the agency's criminal investigative division, said crime statistics reported by border communities and daily contacts with local officials do not show surges in such crimes as kidnapping and extortion.

"We don't see giant spikes in violence," Perkins said.

Others say crime reports don't reflect the measure of the crime along the border.

U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, a Texas Republican, joined Miller and McCaul in proposing a bill that would require Homeland Security to track border-related crimes to better account for kidnappings, property-related crimes and simple acts of trespassing when farmers and ranchers encounter smugglers crossing their lands.

"There is spillover crime," Canseco said. "We need to be able to measure it."

Critics also point to high-profile killings in the border region as proof that the cartel violence is spilling over.
For example, on March 27, 2010, Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was murdered. The killing remains unsolved, but the case sparked outrage from advocates of increased immigration enforcement who suspect that the murder was committed by an illegal immigrant.

Echoes of the Wild West
Partly based on that case and others, the image of the U.S. side of the southwestern border as a lawless region reminiscent of the Wild West lives on.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore visited Washington in November to brief members of Congress and found himself battling misconceptions.

"A lot of it was anecdotal information that was not based on fact," he said.

Angela Kelley, vice president of the Center for American Progress, a group pushing for immigration reform legislation that would allow some illegal immigrants a way to become citizens, said the perceived connection between immigrants and crime makes it impossible for Congress to reach a rational solution for the country's broken immigration system.

"There's this conflation that some like to make between crime rates and immigrants, and throw in there guns and drugs and violence generally," Kelley said. "It's very toxic and it impacts the debate in such a substantial way that you can't have a responsible debate about what does work."

The toll of extra security
Starting with the administration of President George W. Bush, money flowing to the southwestern border has substantially increased.

In 2000, there were fewer than 9,000 Customs and Border Patrol agents and officers patrolling the border. By 2010, that number was nearly 23,000. Homeland Security has increased funding for border security and interior enforcement by more than $5 billion since 2006, with most of that going to the southwestern border.
Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans from Arizona, have endorsed a 10-point plan that would deploy 3,000 National Guard troops, increase funding for local law enforcement agencies by $60 million and add more fencing.

"While our border with Mexico has always seen some level of illegal immigration, it has not seen the powerful threat of deadly violence that exists today due to Mexico's ongoing war against its drug cartels," McCain told a group of border sheriffs last year.

Others think the nation already has the appropriate level of security along the border and should shift some of the funding toward easing the gridlock that exists for those trying to get through the built-up border.

Crossing back and forth used to be simple, but the added layers of security and teams of Border Patrol officers inspecting vehicles and people coming into the country have caused hours-long delays for people legally entering the USA through the points of entry along the southwestern border, according to a report from the San Diego Association of Governments.

Those delays lead to slowed business production as freight trucks carrying goods to the U.S. are held up, and discourage many Mexicans from crossing into the USA to shop as they once did, according to the report. Put together, those delays cost California about $1 billion in revenue in 2007, the report found.
San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez said some of the money going to border security should instead be going to expanding the existing ports of entry and adding new ones to allow the state's already-hurting economy a chance to recover.

However, he said, the image of a lawless border makes it hard to even discuss the topic.

"When you've got the national rhetoric about illegal immigration, you can never get to a conversation about legal immigration," Alvarez said. "Effective border crossings and better regional economics don't sell newspapers."

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31 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

hey did you guys hear of the narcomanta that was put in guerrero?,, which acused two commanders of the marines of being under the orders of hector beltran leyva,it said that they receive money from him and act as his armed wing.Damm now if thats true then thats crazy.I think it was put by la familia/caballeros templarios/la resistencia/la familia guerrerense.

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned about crime in general, not just violent crime. If you get your house or car broken into do you say "oh don't worry, it wasn't violent crime".

The border needs to be more secure to stop illegal aliens, drug smuggling, human smuggling, gun smuggling and so on. These aren't included in the violent crime data.

Anonymous said...

Crime and killings are on the decline along the border states? Hahaha. Please don't be fooled by statistics. What I learned from taking statistics 101 is that if you eliminate the outliers then you normalize the data. These statistics number were made to calm the public and prove that everything is okay.

It is never your problem until it hits your home state. What a sad way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

So lets ignore the violence in Ciudad Juarez and keep an open border. Why take preventive action when you can just wait until the murder rate spikes?

People are endlessly stupid and greedy. If a city next door suffers from 3000 murders one year, any sane person would want to increase security at home.

Meanwhile the zetas continue to spread their tentacles and corruption of public officials in US cities.

Anonymous said...

We need to discourage both illegal and legal immigration from everywhere, especially from Mexico. Pretty soon we won't have anything to call our own. Everything will have been touched by their dirty hands and corrupted just like every institution in south Texas. They destroy their own country, the rich and the poor, and then they think it's their right to come over here and destroy ours. Why won't they stay in their own damn country and fight for what's theirs? Why can't Mexico govern themselves? Why don't they believe in honor, in justice, in education? What is wrong with these people? Aren't they ashamed of themselves? Have they no decency? Look at Canada, they aren't running around like a bunch of headless chickens. Nobody is perfect but it seems mexico doesn't want to even try to better themselves, almost as if they thrive in depravity.

Anonymous said...

The thing here is that the study was only done to 2009. Even Mexico was a LOT less violent up to 2009. But, we are in 2011, almost 2012. There are stats for 2010 and up to now, but they will not support the current administrations policy. So, the beat goes on !

Anonymous said...

"have maintained lower crime rates than the national average, which itself has been falling" -Taken from USA today

Hold just a minute there piper. But isn't our current administration/liberal hypocrites telling us how much higher our crime rates are raising cause we don't have an "assault weapons ban"??? What the hell guys?

Anonymous said...

Something's wrong with this study like the kidnapping aspect which by its nature is not reported. Arizona will concur on that fact. I smell politics.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:48

In my opinion, the "narcomantas" that are used to write those messages are worth more than the message itself.

Anonymous said...

10 ministerial police were killed in a shootout on Los Mochis,Sinaloa.

http://forosdemexico.com/showthread.php?t=25839

Scroll down to see the pictures.

Anonymous said...

oh, just what we need, more flames for the Toothless teabags to spew hatred over.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:41
When, where, how? Where is your proof?

Anonymous said...

8:50 has it right.

11:18 still has to figure out the message times. You're challenging 8:50 not 8:41. What do you think we ought to do? Throw the borders open to anyone so we're not discriminating?

Anonymous said...

Actually I'm challenging 8:41
Meanwhile the Zetas continue to spread their tentacles... In the US

Anonymous said...

@ 8:50

Your an idiot and I hope your impotent so you don't pollute the earth with more morons.

-ET

Anonymous said...

@July 15, 2011 8:50 PM

I like how you spew your racist remarks here but yet your on a Mexican blog. The Irony jaja, why don't you just leave this blog and take your racist remarks somewhere else, and worry about your "own damn country" instead of worrying about ours! This isn't the place for you. If anyone is destroying your country its your politicians not Mexicans!

Anonymous said...

Of course it's on decline, no one is reporting it. Would you if you had 24 hours to come up with a ransom or see your loved one dead? How do you involve police when they just as corrupt and Mexico won't do anything. USA Today needs to relocate to a Border Town and set up shop for 6 months. Guaranteed, they will retract this story and report what is really going on. Especially after the Cartel threatens them to shut up or be killed.

Arthur said...

Generally speaking, crime in the United States had declined by some 60% since Florida's Concealed Carry law started the rearming of America in 1988. Something that is easy enough to see when they crime statistics are laid out in a spreadsheet, as they are here:

http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

Taking that overall reduction into account, I would be forced to agree that substantial amounts of violence IS spilling over the border. And I would also have to agree with local observers who say much of it is not reported.

Anonymous said...

@8:50
Canada? Have you been there? Canada has more immigrants per capita than the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Quick question, is this "Spillover" Mexicos fault ot War on Drugs failure?

Anonymous said...

9:05AM good question, I believe "spillover" is due to games our washington politions are playing,and why call it a war on drugs? Why dont we just call it law enforcement? We have all the laws on the books that we need. Enforce them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Do not trust Any Statistics from the US Fed Govt PERIOD, they will ALWAYS BE Manipulated to support the POLITICAL position of WHATEVER Political Party is in Power At the time.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people here claiming that the US border cities are unsafe and violent actually live on the border?

Anonymous said...

I agree with either 8:41 or 8:50, not sure but the one who is talking about regulating immigration in general. I do not understand why mexicans talk so bad about the US and hate it so much, but at the same time can't wait to get there and feel that they have a 'right' to be there, and that we need to welcome them with open arms and pamper them and waste all our tax dollars on them so they can pull our country down. Put them in housing and what do they do? Destroy it. They don't appreciate shit. They are also too ignorant to realize that their corrupt culture is what brought all this on them...not the US...not the cartels...but the people and politicians to allowed it all to get to this level. Do you really think narcos are that smart as to do all this on their own? Hell no...corruption is what brought them to power, and the common people praising them and making songs and novelas about them is what enforces it. If you want to come to the US fine, but do it the right way and be thankful and respect the country, just like you would want an immigrant to act in your country.

Anonymous said...

I live on the border and in my town it is safe, but drug busts have been increasing, not to mention buglaries and auto theft (not carjacking, but stealing from your driveway at night). Though the violence has not increased at all, the crime has. If Mexico continues to let itself fail, it will only be a matter of time before we do start seeing violence in our community. Hope things get better before that happens.

Anonymous said...

im originally the 9:05 poster,
my point is this, if the War on drugs is certainly a failure, why is it so profitable and who profits?
and i mean on both sides, obviously people are expendable thats certain.
who stands to gain?

Anonymous said...

The United States has always had a way higher crime rate per capita than Mexico. Things like theft(20 times higher in the U.S), assaults, robberies, rapes, domestic violence etc. are much higher in the U.S than in Mexico even today. Since 2010, Mexico has had more murders per capita than the U.S and of course kidnappings. Murder was foreign to Mexico pre drug war(2006) but thanks to the PAN party they are slowling turning Mexico into the U.S in terms of crimes and violence compared to Central America and Colombia. I live on the border and it's much safer than middle American cities, the spill over is greatly exaggerated by U.S right wing politicians that are responsible for much of the violence in the U.S and Mexico/western hemisphere.

Anonymous said...

8:33 PM, you are spot on! And yes, there are HUNDREDS of text books with titles like, "How to Lie with Statistics."

Are these propagandists suggesting we wait for more violence before we act?

Wait for more footsoldiers and staff to get comfy and get their welfare set up?

The situation in Mex is more than enough proof to any wise onlooker.

Do you guys realize this is hundreds of thousands (or even millions of people when you include the support network) involved in this whole rancid deal?

A huge percentage of a population willing to chop off heads, and peel the skin off your face.

Something very wrong with that. Cant be healed by crossing a border. Same people.

Anonymous said...

11:18 said: "When, where, how? Where is your proof?"

Answer: Mexico dip-shite! How much more proof do you need that someone will cut off your head, than to watch them cut off peoples heads.

Think Tank said...

July 16, 2011 7:52 AM
Anonymous said...

Quick question, is this "Spillover" Mexicos fault ot War on Drugs failure?

Answer: Has nothing to do with "war on drugs". These guys are crooked selling drugs or working at wal-mart. Try a little living in Mex. so you can see how these people live their lives. A few descriptors would be...disgusting, pompous incompetence, dirty, trash EVERYWHERE, raw sewage everywhere. corrupt from the crib narco-ninos. Old lady theives. Car broke into almost every night. Ass-backwards in every respect.

Lots of pretty girls though. Too bad the narcos are getting them now too.

Think Tank said...

To July 16, 2011 5:13 PM

That is total BS. In Mexico you WILL BE robbed, your car WILL BE broken into many times per month, if you call the police NO ONE WILL COME.

If you run a business you will be extorted and robbed DAILY.

You are absolutely talking out of your ass sir.

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