It's Time to Set the Record Straight on Border Crime
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Officeholders and candidates in Arizona who support the state’s draconian new immigration law have justified it with hyperbole, exaggeration, and falsehoods about Arizona’s crime rate. Gov. Jan Brewer has colored recent speeches with images of “murder, terror, and mayhem” and “drop houses, kidnappings, and violence,” which are all supposedly common in the lives of the terrified Arizona populace. According to State Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored the law—it mandates that police interrogate people they have “reasonable suspicion” are illegal immigrants and demand production of documentation—cities like Phoenix will become places with “ less crime” and “safer neighborhoods.” Pearce claims Phoenix is “second in the world in kidnappings and third in the United States for violence.”
With all the hype around a purported crime epidemic caused by undocumented immigrants, it’s ironic that newly released statistics from Arizona’s Department of Public Safety and the FBI show that violent crime rates in the state and along the southwest border region have been declining. In fact, it’s fair to say the border region has become safer over the last few years, and that Arizona’s new law actually undermines community safety.
Let’s take a closer look.
The facts on crime in Arizona
Violent crimes in Arizona are down by 15 percent since 2006: The FBI’s preliminary Uniform Crime Report, or UCR, for 2009 shows that violent crime—murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault—is down in Arizona for the third year in a row. The absolute number of violent crimes in 2006 was 30,916 in Arizona. By 2009 it had dropped by 15 percent to 26,094.
Per-capita violent crime rate dropped by 22 percent: Factoring in the change in Arizona’s population, the rate of violent crime per 100,000 persons in 2009 was 390.5, which is a 22 percent decrease from 501.4 per 100,000 in 2006. For comparison’s sake, the violent crime rate in nonborder states such as Georgia and Florida was 410.6 and 604.9 respectively in 2009.
Arizona’s violent and property crime rate drop was twice the national average: Nationally, violent and property crimes were down between 2008 and 2009, but Arizona saw rates of decline more than double that. The nation as a whole saw a -5.5 percent change in violent crime and -4.9 percent change in property crime from 2008 to 2009, but Arizona experienced a percent change of -11.1 in the former and -12 in the latter in this same time period.
Kidnappings are tied to Mexico’s organized crime syndicate, not innocent Americans: It’s clear that Arizona has an organized crime problem, with 267 kidnappings in 2009 in Phoenix alone. But the kidnappings most often occur when human smugglers—who are usually part of Mexican drug cartels—demand more money for their services. As Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said, “We’re talking about the kidnapping of smugglers and associates. I have no fear that my kids or grandkids will be victims.” This means that our efforts must be directed toward two fronts: fixing our broken immigration system so that people can immigrate legally with visas and not illegally with smugglers, and helping to resolve the deadly war on drugs in Mexico.
A safer southwest border
Border cities are among the nation’s safest: Phoenix and other large border (and near-border) cities have some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, including San Diego, El Paso, and Austin.
Border counties have low violent crime rates: Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation. Their rates have dropped by more than 30 percent since the 1990s.