Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spillover Violence From Mexico’s Drug Cartels: How Real Is It?


With every report of drug-related violence in Northern Mexico, comes the fear that the shootouts, the assassinations, and kidnappings will spillover into the United States.

But when does a crime along the border become an example of spillover violence? And when is it just a crime?

It’s all a matter of local interpretation and, sometimes, political manipulation.

Even some media hysteria.

“Let me tell you about the kidnapping epidemic that is happening in our own backyard. Phoenix, Arizona, is America’s kidnapping capital. It is the second worst city after Mexico City, in the world!” declared Fox News host Glenn Beck two years ago. He was referring to a rash of kidnappings that were widely used as proof that cartel violence was moving north.

But it turns out the crime data in Phoenix was much more complicated. In fact, law enforcement there is now being criticized for misreporting kidnapping cases. And all up and down the border there’s an ongoing debate: Is there spillover? How much? And should we admit it’s happening?

West of Phoenix, law enforcement officers throughout San Diego County said the violence is real.

The city of Chula Vista – located only 10 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border – is a recipient of federal grant money from “Operation Stonegarden”. It pays for equipment or overtime pay for officers fighting crime related to the ongoing drug war in Mexico.

Back in 2005 and 2007, the city witnessed the most infamous example of spillover in San Diego County: A string of seven homicides, along with kidnappings and extortion cases. They were traced back to “Los Palillos”, a gang formerly associated with a Tijuana drug cartel.

Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano credits the federal money with keeping the much feared spillover violence at bay.

“If there was no federal funding; if we weren’t coordinating and collaborating, sharing intelligence information between federal, state, and local agencies along the border,” Bejarano said. “Then there would probably be an increased opportunity for spillover crime to occur more often and probably on a larger scale.”

San Diego County has made this case so effectively that in 2010, it was awarded the biggest federal grant yet, $14 million, to be shared between 12 state and local law enforcement agencies.

In Texas, however, especially in the little border towns, spillover looks different. El Cenizo, Texas, on the banks of the Rio Grande, is a very popular crossing spot for illegal activity coming over from Mexico.

Drug smuggling and human smuggling is very common here. It all looks quiet during the day. But people here said that at night things change drastically.

Maria Gonzalez can see the Rio Grande from her kitchen window. She said a few months ago a shootout between drug traffickers and U.S. Border Patrol agents had bullets whizzing by her rickety wooden home. She ducked to the floor, pulling her 8-year-old daughter with her.

Some public officials in this region liken the border to a war zone and are fighting — just like San Diego and Phoenix — for more federal and state money to beef up their defenses. But others downplay the violence, knowing their city’s reputation is on the line.

Laredo is about 12 miles north of Maria Gonzalez’s home. Mayor Raul Salinas said border shootouts are the exception, not the rule. He maintained that violence from Mexico’s Drug War is not spilling across the border.

“We have not seen any indication of that,” Salinas said. “We’re not seeing shootings or bombings, you know, how it’s occurring in some border towns in Mexico.”

The problem with spillover is that it’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, explained it’s a category of crime that’s hard to track and for which there is often no reliable data.

“The U.S. government doesn’t have a legal category for spillover violence,” Shirk said. “If a drug trafficker walks across the border and shoots an innocent U.S. citizen, that’s not a special category of crime that is tracked by the FBI and denoted as spillover violence, so it’s highly interpretive.”

Whether it’s spillover violence or not, the reality is that violent crime – especially in most Southwestern border counties – has gone down in the last year by as much as 30 percent in some places.

2009 AlJazeera Video


  1. The Los Pallios was a fascinating case, but it was lone cell kidnapping, robbing and killing people with CAF that lived in San Diego. They were pretty much all dismantled and captured in 2007 and 2009. I read there were 29 murder in San Diego last year, hardly seems like a hotspot for cartel violence.

  2. Yes, the estimation about whether violence from Latin America is spilling over into the US does depend quite a lot on what a person actually wants to believe already, rather more than just the case of the objective facts of the matter. We see that over and over here on BB with Right Wing Anglo racists rushing always to justify and build further upon their own subjective prejudices against Hispanic culture and peoples, with every tiny bit of Mexican crime data that is published on this blog and then read by them.

    I can only imagine to myself if there was a similar online publication about US criminality printed up in a foreign language that was used to perhaps bolster Chinese or Russian prejudices against US society. Foreigners who wanted to see bad things about the US certainly could be fed an eyeful of stories to back up their deepest prejudices against the US in this way.

  3. And why do right-wingers have a prejudice? Is is because they don't like lazy, welfare , mooch off the government, crime ridden culture type of people? That's not prejudice, it's pride.

  4. "Spillover violence" is catch-phrase created by the media that they can attach to any event or incident. The media deal in stories and it makes a better story if you give readers something they can picture in their mind.

    Like water spilling over a dam - violence spilling over the border. Makes a good image and since nobody knows for sure what it is - the media can tell them what it is. So now we'll have a debate on spillover = more stories for more readers.

    These "journalists" are quoting Glenn Beck? Are you shitting me? He's an hysterical idiot. The folks at KPBS really took a flyer on this one.

  5. This whole debate about "spillover violence" is absurd, every time an illegal alien or legal foreign resident commits a crime in the U.S. IT IS spillover violence.

    @J--So you're happy with JUST 29 murders instead of with maybe just 1 or 2?

  6. 'And why do right-wingers have a prejudice? Is is because they don't like lazy, welfare , mooch off the government, crime ridden culture type of people? That's not prejudice, it's pride. May 27, 2011 9:21 PM'

    No Anonymous One, it is your racism speaking here. That's all it is, and you're not all that great like you think you are. In fact, I find you to be positively tribal in your mentality. Tribal mentality such as yours is in the 21st Century will destroy the planet if allowed to become predominant once again, like in Hitler's time..

  7. chandler arizona mexican cartel decapitation

  8. arizona pinal county deadly shooting 1 dead on interstate 8,drug violence,.....phoenix homicides and kidnappings, laredo texas they got something going down there too


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