Gov. Rick Perry has said repeatedly that state-led border security efforts have produced a 65 percent drop in crime. He has used the statistic in campaign ads, in press conferences about border initiatives and even in his State of the State address to legislators this year.
"As a result of your efforts and their deterrent effect," Perry said during that speech, addressing border officers in the audience, "illegal alien apprehensions in Texas have dropped 47 percent since 2005. Crime has also fallen as much as 65 percent in areas that smuggling cartels previously treated as their personal playground."
That's true in some areas, but it's not a complete picture.
Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the 65 percent figure represents crime numbers in unincorporated areas of the border from the summer of 2005 to the summer of 2007, accounting for about 93 percent of the Texas-Mexico border region. The number, she said, comes from the Texas Border Security Council Report from September 2008. But uniform crime reports that police agencies submit to the Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI indicate that crime rates in 20 border counties increased by about 2 percent on average from 2005 through 2008.
The governor started spending millions of dollars on state-led border security efforts in late 2005. At Perry's request, legislators in 2007 dedicated $110 million to border security. They approved a similar amount in 2009. Some of the funds spent so far have gone to local sheriffs and police for overtime and equipment. Some of the money has been used by the DPS to beef up their border presence. Even the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has gotten a chunk of the border money.
Some counties have seen crime dip, according to the DPS data — primarily rural counties with small populations, like Hudspeth County, which saw a 21 percent drop in its crime rate. That sparsely populated county just east of El Paso saw 48 crimes in 2005 and 37 in 2008. In a recent campaign video for Perry, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West, standing on the banks of the Rio Grande, says that no governor in the country has done as much to secure the border. "Folks from Washington, when they come to the border, they want to take pictures. It's a photo opportunity for them. When Gov. Perry steps on this border, he's here to take care of business," West says in the commercial. Rural Val Verde and Zapata counties saw drops of 22 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
But some of those rural counties that didn't have a lot of crime to begin with also saw big spikes in their crime rates. In Terrell County, the crime rate grew 151 percent. There were eight crimes in the county in 2005 and 19 in 2008. And the urban border counties of El Paso and Webb both saw crime rates climb. In Webb County, home to Laredo and neighbor to Nuevo Laredo, where the drug cartel fighting was centered in 2005 and 2006, the crime rate grew about 8 percent. In El Paso County, directly across from violence ridden Juarez, the crime rate rose 2 percent.
So what accounts for the discrepancy between Perry's numbers and the DPS numbers? Perry's 65 percent claim is drawn from rural areas, where there aren't many people and there wasn't much crime to begin with. The DPS and FBI crime reports account for the whole border picture.
To look at all the uniform crime rate data compiled in a spreadsheet, click here.