Here is an excerpt from Daniel Borunda's article in the El Paso Times:
"A new ranking shows El Paso moved up to the second-safest large city in the nation even while a vicious drug cartel war has turned Juárez into one of the deadliest cities in the world. El Paso trailed only Honolulu for the lowest crime rate for cities with more than 500,000 population in an annual publication released Monday by CQ Press. The ranking is based on crime data for 2008. Civic leaders lauded the rating, saying it counters a negative perception that El Paso is a violent place because of the killings across the border... Violent crime in El Paso -- which was ranked the No. 3 safest large city last year -- has remained steady even as a drug war has claimed more than 3,000 lives in Juárez since it began in January 2008... Last weekend, Chihuahua state police reported 31 murders in Juárez. There have been more than 2,200 deaths this year." Link to Full Article
Analysis: I absolutely love reading about El Paso's safe-city ranking every year because it's such a perfect example of the conundrum posed in trying to define border violence spillover. Some might ask, how is it possible that Mexico's most violent city and one of the US' safest cities can coexist literally a stone's throw from each other?
Well, the answer is a little more complicated than you might think. Just because no one is getting killed in El Paso doesn't mean that the DTOs aren't there. I'm willing to bet a LOT of money that I don't even have that the DTOs - most likely the VCFO and the Sinaloa Federation - have plenty of representation there. We certainly know that gangs who distribute drugs and carry out hits for the DTOs in the US are in Texas, so they're likely in El Paso, too.
So why aren't they killing anyone?
It just so happens that murder and mayhem are really bad for business on US soil. Also, US law enforcement agencies in and around El Paso are particularly good at what they do. They have to be, considering the bloody insanity happening in their Mexican sister city of Cuidad Juárez.
But that's only half of what I want to address about this story. The other point I want to make is that border violence spillover cannot simply be defined by body bags and toe tags. The DTOs are everywhere in the US, and we know that they're killing and kidnapping people - almost all of whom are in the drug business - on US soil. While they're apparently not doing it in El Paso, we know there are hundreds of DTO-sanctioned kidnappings happening in Phoenix, dozens in San Diego, and many varieties of DTO-directed murders happening in cities and towns across the US.
So what can cities like San Diego, Laredo, Nogales, and others on the US side of the border take away from El Paso's experience so that they, too, can be ranked among the country's safest cities? Unfortunately, not much. I hate to say that because it would be nice if it were as easy as emulating their best practices. But US border cities and towns aren't in a vacuum of border-related "stuff." Their crime rates, people flow, and general operating environments are all viewed differently by DTOs. They make the final decision regarding how much they're willing to risk by engaging in dangerous behavior on our side of the border.
That sounds like US law enforcement has little say or control over how things go in border cities, but that's not what I'm trying to say. San Diego's crime statistics look different than El Paso's, but that's not because law enforcement efforts are weaker; I can attest to the awesome set-up San Diego has for dealing with DTO-related criminal activity. Overall crime in San Diego has actually remained steady or slightly declined over the last several years, despite the fact that it's less than two dozen miles from Mexico's second most dangerous city - Tijuana. But more people have been murdered there in the last year than in El Paso.
What does it mean? Well, two things. First, comparing El Paso to other US border cities is like comparing apples to oranges. There are just too many variables to take into account, and those variables are coming from two different countries. Second, don't let the good news about El Paso lead you to believe border violence spillover isn't happening. In the absence of a clear and standardized definition, the meaning of spillover is in the eye of the beholder anyway. But just remember that a broader approach than just looking at annual murder statistics is needed when trying to assess the impact of DTO activity on the Mexican side of the border.