Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Texas border crime "overwhelming" or at historic lows?

In an item titled "Texas police face continuing border crime problems," we learn from KPRC-TV that Brooks County has ceased receiving "Border Star" grant funds:
While it still receives some federal funding through partnerships with surrounding counties, the Brooks County Sheriff's Office recently lost its state Border Star funding for the quarter. 

[Sheriff Urbino] Martinez explained that with only a staff of three administrators, who also handle calls for help and take missing persons reports, the office couldn't keep up with all the paperwork required to secure the grant.
The story portrays Brooks County, population 7,200, as "facing an overwhelming amount of crime."
Brooks County averages two high-speed chases every day involving either drugs or human smuggling. 

This year, the county is also contending with 60 missing person cases and 116 bodies of illegal immigrants found murdered or dead from exposure.

Sheriff's office records show the number of bodies found in Brooks County in 2012 has more than doubled from 2011.

Grits' understanding was that most of the bodies found in Brooks County were illegal immigrants who died from exposure trying to walk through the Texas heat past border patrol checkpoints. The Austin Statesman reported last year that "Most of the bodies were those of illegal immigrants crossing the brush trying to avoid the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias and not victims of direct assaults, according to the Brooks County sheriff's department." Similarly, at the Texas Observer, Melissa del Bosque reported last year that "One of the deadliest corridors along the U.S.-Mexico border is a remote stretch of ranchland in tiny Brooks County." But I suppose it's possible there are murders interspersed with those more pedestrian, if no less tragic, deaths from heat and dehydration. If so, Grits has never heard additional details.

Remarkably, asset forfeiture made up 37.5% of the Brooks County Sheriff's budget last year. While "the sheriff's office's actual budget for 2011-2012 was $620,186.90," reported the TV station, that was supplemented with "an additional $387,834 from asset seizure funds."

With all this action reported by the Brooks County Sheriff, it's ironic and puzzling that larger cities along the border continue to see crime fall to historically low rates. USA Today had a story last week titled, "Violent crime falls in US cities along the Mexico border," where we learn that, remarkably, "Ten of the 13 largest cities in Texas, Arizona and California closest to the Mexico border recorded reductions in overall violent crime, according to the latest FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Eleven of the 13 also saw reductions in property crime, including burglary and car theft." Here's a notable excerpt from that data-driven article:
While the largest of the border cities -- San Diego and El Paso -- also reported declines, murders in each city jumped in 2011. Yet city officials cautioned that the rise in homicides could not be attributed to a spillover in violence from Mexico.

El Paso recorded 16 murders in 2011, up from just five in 2010, the fewest since 1964. This year, the number is up to 23 killings. But police Sgt. Chris Mears says the larger numbers are within range of the average for the past 20 years.

"None of these homicides are in any way spillover violence from Mexico," Mears says, adding that a number of the homicides have involved child abuse resulting in death.

San Diego County Sheriff Cmdr. David Myers says the rise in murder there â(euro) " from 29 in 2010 to 38 in 2011 â(euro) " was largely attributed to a "flurry" of domestic-related disputes. None of the deaths were linked to Mexican violence, though Myers says the cartels remain active in the region.

El Paso’s proximity to one of the most violent cities in Mexico and world, Ciudad Juarez, prompted widespread fear last year that Mexican violence -- which claimed 3,400 lives in Juarez alone in 2010 -- was washing into U.S. border cities.

But a 2011 USA TODAY analysis of crime data reported by 1,600 law enforcement agencies in four border states found that violent crime rates on the U.S. side of the southwestern border have been falling for years.
The analysis concluded that U.S. cities near the border are statistically safer, on average, than others in their states. The new FBI numbers follow that same pattern.
It's hard to square these sorts of stories. The Brooks County Sheriff reports very few offenses in annual Uniform Crime Reports, which form the basis for USA Today's calculations. The FY 2011 jurisdiction-level report isn't up on the DPS website yet, but they reported one murder in 2009 - the first since the turn of the century - and none in 2010, when the Sheriff's office reported 14 total index-crime offenses. That hardly seems like an overwhelming caseload. One also wonders, if the agency engages in two high-speed chases per day, why those offenders haven't shown up over the last decade ( FY '11 and '12 data aren't available yet from DPS) in the Sheriff's UCR reports? One senses a whiff of exaggeration in the Sheriff's breathless account.

Is border crime "overwhelming" or low as ever? As is often the case one can find news sources, like those quoted in this post, that take both sides of the question. But when one source relies on data analysis and the other on anecdote and hype, my gut generally tells me to go with the folks crunching the data.


Scott D said...

The reason the border area high speed chases won't show up on the FBI's UCR is that none of those types of offenses are considered UCR Part 1 crimes. Narcotics offenses, human trafficking and evading police are not considered Part 1 crimes. The only crimes listed as Part 1's are Murder, Forcible Rape, Robbery, Aggravated Assault, Burglary, Larceny, Motor Vehicle Theft and Arson.

Even if the smugglers used a stolen vehicle, unless the vehicle was stolen in the jurisdiction where the chase occurred it wouldn't get reported on that agency's UCR. Many of these vehicles are stolen elsewhere, transported across the border, loaded up with illicit cargo and then driven across the border.

You could be overrun with border chases and it wouldn't even be a blip on an agency's UCR report. While I have heard from law enforcement sources that border chases are pretty common down there as people try to run the checkpoints, I can't comment on whether other types of crimes are up.

Anonymous said...

The corrupting influence of federal grant monies has been shown across the nation as DA's,sheriffs and police chiefs all over the US has been caught lieing about arrest records and embezzling funds from the grants,,this war on drugs has caused more damage to our society than any illicit drugs could have done if they had ever been banned.

But that is beginning to end,,WA and CO threw a wrench in the drug war machine and even if the DOJ jumps big and bad on those two states,,they are also watching the worlds reaction to the vote because they realize that the cost of keeping hemp prohibited just started costing more than een America can afford,,the ONDCP budget climbed 33% in this years budget and will double next year if they attempt to buy back support for the war on drugs

Anonymous said...

I tried to email you at the contact email address on the blog, but I get the message from yahoo mail "not a valid address".
Here is what I was trying to send you by email;
Dear Grits,

I live in Northern Mexico, but grew up and lived in Texas (including Austin) for many many years. You site is one of my daily stops every morning while drinking my coffee and checking to see what is happening in the world.

I have a question for you and it might make an interesting story for you. Even though it is not a Texas issue per se, the legalization of marijuana in Colo. and Washington is going to raise more and more discussions about this subject across the country (including Texas) as those initiatives are implemented.

What will happen to those currently in prison on possession charges in those states that decriminalize possession of pot? I Googled that question and couldn't find any discussion about it. As with most issues, I don't think there is a simple solution. Are they to be released automatically? Are their cases to be reviewed? If they would have to be reviewed by the courts, the cost savings projected in enforcement and imprisonment would be surely be more than offset by the cost of creating new courts to hear the thousands and thousands cases in prison for possession. Many serving time for possession are there because of plea deals that dropped more serious charges in exchange for a quilty plea on possession. What do you do with them?

It is an issue I have not seen discussed and thought you might expound on some on your blog.