Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The El Paso Paradox

The city of El Paso statistically and geographically has much going against it in regards to the standard assumptions about crime, yet it is one of the safest large cities in America. It was featured briefly in the Oscar winning movie “No Country for Old Men”. The movie presented the Texas border areas as wild lawless regions of cross border drug violence. The movie could not be more wrong.

In the El Paso metro, per capita income is well below the national average; a whopping 43% less than in Houston's metro, and even 23% less than the relatively poor San Antonio. Cities with high minority populations tend to have more crime as well. El Paso is 93% non-Anglo. Easy accessibility to guns is often blamed, erroneously, and we know that Texas is a very gun friendly state. Added to all of these is the fact that Ciudad Juarez, a city twice the size of El Paso and so violent that police officers are routinely gunned down by drug cartels, lies right across the Rio Grande.

Given all these headwinds, one would expect El Paso to be plagued with crime and murder. It isn’t, though. Not only does it not have a murder problem it is the 2nd safest urban center of at least 250,000 in the United States. It has a murder rate 1/3rd that of San Antonio and 1/5th that of Houston or Dallas. The city is so safe that it ranks better than cities with stellar reputations like San Diego, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle. It is even safer than a number of suburban cities in Texas like Grand Prairie, Carrollton, and Irving.

One might think that murder is just an exception to other violent crimes. Of the 72 cities above 250,000 reporting information to the FBI, El Paso ranks 7th best, ranking it just ahead of the Los Angeles suburb of Anaheim, home of Disneyland.

¿Qué está pasando con El Paso?

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