Fact vs. Myth

I have this same problem all the time now in Arizona:

To understand how badly we're doing the most basic work of journalism in covering the law enforcement beat, try sitting in a barbershop. When I was getting my last haircut, the noon news on the television"”positioned to be impossible to avoid watching"”began with a grisly murder. The well-educated man in the chair next to me started ranting about how crime is out of control.

But it isn't. I told Frank, a regular, that crime isn't running wild and chance of being burglarized today is less than one quarter what it was in 1980.

The shop turned so quiet you could have heard a hair fall to the floor had the scissors not stopped. The barbers and clients listened intently as I next told them about how the number of murders in America peaked back in the early 1990's at a bit south of 25,000 and fell to fewer than 16,000 in 2009. When we take population growth into account, this means your chance of being murdered has almost been cut in half.

Its almost impossible to convince folks that AZ is not in the middle of some sort of Road Warrior-style immigrant-led wave of violence.  In fact, our crime levels in AZ have steadily dropped for over a decade, in part because illegal immigrants trying to hang on to a job are the last ones to try to stir up trouble with the law (charts here, with update here)

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, "Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we're significantly down." Mr. Crump said Phoenix's most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona's major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn't have exact figures. [see charts above, these are continuation of decade-long trends]

But over Thanksgiving my niece visited from the Boston area for a national field hockey tournament and her teachers and coaches had carefully counselled them that they were  walking into a virtual anarchy, and kidnapping or murder would await any teen who wandered away from the group.


  1. Brian:

    A population that lives in fear is easier to control. Follow the orders of the authorities or the people who are different from you will murder your family while they sleep.

  2. Chris K.:

    While I appreciate what statistics may show, last month my store was robbed at gunpoint about two miles from where your son goes to school.

    And in fact in the last 2 months in the valley my type of store has been robbed 12 times.

    Doesn't mean that I'm a supporter of Sheriff Joe (in fact to quote Travis: ROPE!) But it does mean that I've changed my routine from a Glock in my manpurse at my desk to a Glock on my hip and a Glock in my manpurse.

  3. Fred from Canuckistan:

    Is crime down or reported crime down?

    IS the murder rate that is down adjusted for improved medical services & techniques?

  4. Don:

    Fred: If AZ holds true with national averages, crime is down in every catagory except property crime (which has had a slight increase that started about the time the whole econ thing started in late 2007/early 2008).

    Things are similar in Texas. Here in San Antonio, we had a spike in "reported" crime a few years ago when the new Chief came on board because he went out of his way to get to know neighborhood leaders, went to PTA meetings, and other stuff that I don't think they'd ever done. Consiquently, we've had even sharper drops than the national average. San Antonio's a REALLY good place to be today (low crime, low prices, and unemployment at or below 7%).

  5. D-man:

    No mention of spiraling incarceration rates? (Always another of the libertarian's bugaboo topics.)

  6. T J Sawyer:

    It is rather unfortunate that "the news" has become one story of violence after another. We simply quit watching "the news" a few years ago. Once in a while, we will turn it on. Say perhaps the local football stadium roof collapses after a blizzard. We are then amazed at the stories that are being run. Blood, blood, blood! "If it leads it bleeds" was the old saying. I'd guess now that it is more like "No blood, no story!"

  7. Peter:

    Any chance the murder rate is down because the murderers are killing each other? Wishful thinking probably. As far as the teacher you can bet they had far less trouble with the kids on that trip than any without the speech. As my father has frequently said "why ruin a good story with the facts". (no he is not a journalist)

  8. dave smith:

    The plural of anecdote is not data. Just because someone got robbed does not mean crime is up. (Or, I never lost my job over the last 3 years, and in fact always got raises. So the economy must be fine.)

    Crime IS down. Increased incarceration rates, problems in reporting, and other things might be partly responsible. But many have dismissed these as total explanations.

    (If simple biases in crime reporting to be responsible, you'd have to prove that they were not biased 10+ years ago but biased now.)

  9. gadfly:

    The liberal Washington Independent published a chart that shows violent crime is up in Maricopa County by 58% since 2002 where 60% of Arizona's population resides. I would be curious to know the details as to crime type, ethnicity of perpetrator, location, and resolution of the cases.


  10. colson:


    According to the chart, only Arpaio is reporting a huge increase in violent crime. Does the MCSD have jurisdiction throughout the entire county or only in those areas not served by a city PD? This is important because it may show that the local violent crime reporting rates for the PDs are false if the Sherriff's department is responding more frequently in areas that are already served by the PD.

    Maricopa county, by some reports, grew by nearly 25% since 2000 - how do these violent crime numbers compare when factoring for population growth?

    The graph only opens more doors for more questions than it does to illustrate anything useful.

  11. ruralcounsel:

    More to the point, how is the AZ crime rate faring compared to other states (both with and without a shared Mexican border)? Lets try and filter out the national trends if we're going to be making comparisions. And how much of the AZ crime rate can be attributed to illegal immigrants? Or whose perpetrators are unknown? Or known to be citizens?

    And what is the geographic distribution of crime as a function of distance or ease of travel from the Mexican border? And what percentage of the incarcerated criminals in AZ are illegals, compared to other jurisdictions?

    What is the assault rate against Border Patrol and Immigration personnel in AZ compared to other states? For example, those along the Canadian border?

    Those are the stats that would be more convincing and conclusive, other than just a vague declaration that AZ crime rates are dropping. Both sides of the illegal immigration argument are prone to making misleading statements based upon a careful parsing of the questions.

    And lets not forget to mention that illegal entry is in itself a crime.

    I am one U.S. citizen who believes we have to be able to control our borders. All of them. I don't care if the illegals contribute to a higher crime rate or not. (Though I'm inclined to believe there is a bimodal distribution... some just looking for a chance to prosper and others taking advantage of criminal opportunities) They could all be "model" illegal residents...behaving in order not to be discovered and deported, though if that is what incentivizes them to behave, I'm not very comforted. I don't care who economically benefits from illegal immigration; if we need workers from there, come up with a permitted worker program so we can track and trace them, and send them home when we need to. If we don't know who is coming across, we can't know what the real impact is, or what the risks are we are taking.

  12. Ed Darrell:

    It's outrageous, really. If only the governor and state legislature of Arizona were not wholly silent on the safety of the state, things could be better.

    Did I just see the governor of Arizona on the noon news?

  13. Ed Darrell:

    I don’t care if the illegals contribute to a higher crime rate or not.

    Studies by the Dallas Fed indicate crime rates among illegals in America track crime rates among all immigrants. They are radically different for the first three to ten years.

    Then crime rates rise to match native U.S. crime rates.

  14. gadfly:


    Of course the liberal Washington Independent was trying to imply that statistics from Maricopa County are false . . . but as you rightfully point out, we have to back up and say that if Arpaio's stats are incorrect, why not question all other reporting entities as well? Counties and cities throughout Arizona each have a responsibility to assemble and report on the success and failure of their police efforts. Do we think that any of them want their voters to know that crime control is failing? So if arrests are down, my logic says, it just might be because show crime incidents have also fallen or it might be because police units are inefficient or they were directed to ignore illegals because they are ICE's problem.

    Maricopa County illustrates another point. It is a much smaller geographical area than the entire state (which shows a decline). Like all stats, the effect of large numbers makes the larger area's results less significant than those of smaller areas. That is why further delving into the data might clarify whether or not the assumption that "illegals' crimes follows citizens' crime patterns" is correct.

    I personally do not comprehend how it would be possible to double the number of invaders over the past decade without affecting crime stats, especially since every additional illegal equals another crime. I wonder why violation of immigration laws is not part of the reporting?

  15. mahtso:

    I wonder what percentage of identity theft is committed by illegal immigrants.

  16. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    > But over Thanksgiving my niece visited from the Boston area for a national field hockey tournament and her teachers and coaches had carefully counselled them that they were walking into a virtual anarchy, and kidnapping or murder would await any teen who wandered away from the group.

    Yes, and, more importantly, if you WERE caught wandering, it would wind up on your Permanent Record.

    Seriously. They always try and do this stuff, it's about the only way they can really keep the wayward bastards from going all over the place. Chances are, nothing will happen, but it's not like they want to risk that as even possible, do they?

  17. IgotBupkis:

    > “If it leads it bleeds” was the old saying

    Uh, ya got that backwards:

    “If it bleeds it leads” was the old saying


    Warren, your claim has a weakness in that, as others have noted, crime EVERYWHERE is down.

    A more factual test of the significance of the impact of illegal immigration would be, are the local crime rates down in SIMILAR PROPORTION to those around the nation?

    If the national average is "down 10%", and IF your area is "down 7%" -- then one must follow that up with: "What part of that 7% is attributed to illegals?"

    If it's the same, then your claim has merit. If not, then you're making an apples-and-oranges comparison.

  18. IgotBupkis:

    Sorry, not clear there:

    “What part of that 7% is attributed to illegals?”

    What part of the difference is attributable to illegals?

    Additional note:
    It would be especially damning if the crime rate, absent illegals, would be down 11% or something like that.

  19. GoneWithTheWind:

    I agree that statistically crime is down. However I can assure you that I can pick out a handful of places in any large city where you or any reasonable person would not go into after dark out of fear of being mugged or much worse. There are pockets (some very large) of crime in any large city where crime is rampant. Where I live (1000 miles from Mexico) 90% of the violent, drug and sex crimes are committed by illegal aliens. Does it really help to then tell law-abiding citizens that the statistics say crime rates are down?