A Return to AZ Crime Levels

Let's revisit the question of crime levels in Arizona.

One of the gripes leveled at me in my last post on this topic was along the lines of “you don’t live in Arizona, so you can’t know what you are talking about” (e.g., here and here).  Setting aside the difficulties to be associated with limiting the ability of persons to have opinions about a place to those residing in said place, let’s address this complaint by looking to people in Arizona, since that is what some people seem to want.

Along those lines let me note the following from the Arizona Republic (Violence is not up on Arizona border despite Mexican drug war) which is not only a newspaper in the Grand Canyon State, but quotes people who live there—even better it quotes Arizona law enforcement officials, i.e., persons actually in Arizona with actual specialized knowledge of the situation (yes, I am employing a smidge of Saturday snark).

[Nogales] Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez shakes his head and smiles when he hears politicians and pundits declaring that Mexican cartel violence is overrunning his Arizona border town.


In Yuma, police spokesman Sgt. Clint Norred said he cannot recall any significant cartel violence in the past several years. Departmental crime records show the amount of bloodshed has remained stable despite a substantial population increase.


Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County, said there always has been crime associated with smuggling in southern Arizona, but today’s rhetoric does not seem to jibe with reality.

“This is a media-created event,” Dupnik said. “I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure.”

Even Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, among the most strident critics of federal enforcement, concedes that notions of cartel mayhem are exaggerated. “We’re not seeing the multiple killings, beheadings and shootouts that are going on on the other side,” he said.

The best one can get for the massive crime thesis:

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said his town suffers from home invasions and kidnappings involving marijuana smugglers who are undoubtedly tied to Mexican organizations. However, he added, most of those committing the rip-offs are American citizens.

Emphases mine.

Indeed, the following is worth noting as most of this hysteria is linked primarily to one case:

Since the murder of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz by a suspected illegal immigrant in March, politicians and the national press have fanned a perception that the border is inundated with bloodshed and that it’s escalating.

A rather important fact about this case, however:

according to the Border Patrol, Krentz is the only American murdered by a suspected illegal immigrant in at least a decade within the agency’s Tucson sector, the busiest smuggling route among the Border Patrol’s nine coverage regions along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Thus, as tragic an event as this was, it is hardly evidence of the massive wave of illegal immigrant-fueled crime and violence that Governor Brewer and Senator McCain (amongst others) are making.

And yes, there was also the murder of a Pinal County deputy sheriff that was linked to a drug trafficker.  Again, tragic, but not a crime wave, either.

Yet we have the Governor of the state claiming that there are beheadings taking place in the state as a result of illegal immigration with no evidence to support the claims.  See:  the Politico (Brewer’s beheading claim questioned).

Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer claimed recently that law enforcement has been finding beheaded bodies in the desert — but local agencies say they’ve never encountered such a case.

“Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” Brewer said Sunday, suggesting that the beheadings were part of increased violence along the border.

But medical examiners from six of Arizona’s counties — four of which border Mexico — tell the Arizona Guardian that they’ve never encountered an immigration-related crime in which the victim’s head was cut off.

I have noted before Brewer’s predilection for creative exaggeration (to be kind) on this general subject before:   Radically Misdiagnosing the Problem (Jan Brewer and Illegal Immigration).

Regardless of one’s opinion about illegal immigration and the proper policy responses thereto, it is unclear to me why people would tolerate being lied to.  This is all about pandering to fears (and increasing them) for electoral gain, not about understanding and solving a problem.  It also takes a serious problem and ultimately undercuts it by ignoring reality and focusing on a fantasy.  Indeed, these pronouncements by Brewer, McCain, et al. indicate either a disconnection from reality or purposeful prevarication for political purposes.  Neither is what one should want from one’s elected officials.

One of the odder aspects of the claims being made by Brewer and McCain in regards to violent crime in the state is that is can’t be good for tourism.

All of this is really about perception, rather than reality.  As I noted the comments in the above-linked post:

The thing about this discussion is that people forget that perception is fueled by the media-what we see on TV, what we hear people (including politicians) talk about affects what we think is true. It has oft been observed that people frequently think that crime is on the rise because the nightly news heavily covers crime. However, crime has been on the decline in the US for decades-but it is frequently difficult to convince people of that fact.

Or, another example: several summer ago there were several high profile child abductions-this let to a widespread belief that child abductions were on the rise (yet, they were not, in fact, I think in that year they were below average). Another summer it was shark attacks.

This pattern appears to be replicating itself with the AZ crime issue.  The shark angle was also noted, I saw this morning, by John Cole:  The Mexican Shark.

Cole also notes the following from WaPo’s Dana Milbank:  Headless bodies and other immigration tall tales in Arizona.

To be clear:  the fact that Arizona isn’t experiencing a massive violent crime wave is not an excuse not to address the problems associated with illegal immigration, border security, and drug trafficking.  However, it strikes me as always preferable to make public policy based on actual facts rather than to make them based on an alternative reality.  If one wants an obvious example of this dictum, I would point one to the Iraq war and the weapons of mass destruction chimera.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2010, Crime, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kenny says:

    Mean world syndrome — seeing reality through the television lens — is an aspect of George Gerbner’s cultivation theory.

    Ultimately, I suppose, the governor and others ramp up the rhetoric because talk of an overwhelmed infrastructure aren’t strong enough as soundbites. Stories of supposed decapitations? That will scare every grandparent.

  2. Jay Dubbs says:

    Why let pesky things like facts get in the way of a winning political argument?

  3. grampagravy says:

    What will be fun to watch is Brewer and McCain trying to walk back all this BS should they win their primaries. Right now they are just trying to swing enough small GOP minds their way so they’ll be in the running. It will be a whole different song when Brewer has to face Terry Goddard and McCain has to face Rodney Glassman in the general election. Shades of Sharron Angle anyone?
    Watch for:
    Brewer: “I never meant their heads were not on their bodies or that they were totally DEAD! I was taken out of context.”
    McCain: “I have always been in favor of a pathway to citizenship, except when I had to beat J.D. He lies you know.”

  4. Here’s a link that says Dana Milbank is full of shit. Again.


    I don’t have to carry a brief for Governor Brewer to note that some of the things being said about her are just as wrong as what you and John Cole and Dana Milbank and Kenny and Jay Dubbs and grampagracy are accusing her of.

  5. @Charles: for example?

  6. @Charles: that link is not exactly what I would call a definitive refutation of anything. Further, it makes the mistake of acting as if the beheading claim was the only thing mentioned in Milibanks’ piece—far from it.

    I am unclear as to the need to defend what is clearly a factually incorrect position. Why is it so hard to admit that there is no massive immigrant-fueled violent crime wave going on in AZ?

  7. grampagravy says:

    Charles, that head the cowboy found could easily be the work of some Scottsdale wife offing an unwanted husband. They have a habit of doing stuff like that you know. The body parts depository favored by these cougars is a dumpster outside their immediate neighborhood, but perhaps in this instance the heiress was being a bit more creative.

  8. Jay Dubbs says:

    @Charles – One head, two years ago, “near a trail believed to be used by drug and alien smugglers,”

    OK, now I’m convinced that the brown hoard is coming and bringing their lawlessness with them.

  9. Jay Dubbs says:

    Probably should be brown horde, instead.

  10. tom p says:

    ***Yet we have the Governor of the state claiming that there are beheadings taking place in the state as a result of illegal immigration with no evidence to support the claims. ***


    ***However, it strikes me as always preferable to make public policy based on actual facts rather than to make them based on an alternative reality. ***

    Steve T, here is the actual fact that some people are basing their public policy on: “We hate and fear the brown people.” All other facts are subservient to that fact.

  11. grampagravy says:

    Half a million illegals coming in per year, with 65% of them coming from Mexico and another 30% from other Latin American countries, is sort of like a brown horde. Like any illegal activity of this magnitude there are a host of other lawless behaviors surrounding this enterprise. So, yes, a brown horde is streaming across the border and bringing a scofflaw attitude along with them, but for the most part their transgressions haven’t risen to the level Brewer, McCain, et al have alleged and there’s no need to formulate a defensive measures plan like the one we have for the attack of the zombies. All we need is a real immigration policy that addresses the problems on both sides of the border realistically.

  12. tom p says:

    I have always found it interesting how so many americans find it easy to demonize an illegal immigrant. They are people, just like my grandparents, traveling thru unspeakable difficulties, to work in a place they aren’t even wanted, in the hope of making a better life for their children.

    The difference? When my grandparents got here in 1900 and 1904, America was screaming for cheap labor from eastern Europe. They were hated and reviled when they got here (“They don’t even speak ENGLISH!”), but people gave them jobs anyway… Nobody else would work at those wages.

    Now-a-days… America is screaming for cheap labor from south of the border, they are hated and reviled (“They don’t even speak ENGLISH!”) when they get here, but people give them jobs anyway…. Nobody else would work at those wages.

    Ooooops, I forgot to tell you the difference: Now we have labor laws like the 40 hr work week, minimum wage, overtime, workmans comp, unemployment insurance…. The inconvenient fact is no American would work without those things…. But a Salvadoran would because $3 a week is good wages where he comes from.

    The other inconvenient fact is there are Americans who know this and take advantage of it. And break the law.

    But it is a whole lot easier to just hate the brown people, arrest them and deport them, then it is to arrest these “icons of American industry” because they know their rights and they have lawyers and the law and….

    The little brown people? What do they have?

  13. tom p says:

    And yes, I know I am going to be attacked by all those who will say I am just making excuses for the illegal aliens, “They break the law by being here!!! Their very PRESENCE is an affront to the law!”

    To which I can only answer, “If stupidity was illegal, your every thought would warrant a life sentence.”

    I ask: What about the people who hire them? This is a simple matter of supply and demand. Take away the demand and the supply will dry up. (if nothing else, the drug war has taught us that the opposite DOES NOT WORK.)

    To put it in words any idiot can understand: Put the people who hire them into prison. Pretty soon they will stop hiring illegal aliens (and yes, you can tell the difference about 95% of the time).

    “Oh, but what about the laws against discrimination? Those laws put the employer in a really tough spot.”

    What can I say? Tuff sh*t. Don’t like it? Don’t be an employer. The other thing I can say is this: It is an easily dealt with problem. Have a prospective employee you suspect is illegal? Hire them on a probationary basis and do the “E-Verify”.(as I understand it, E-V is about 95% accurate) If they come back clean, you are OK, … as to the rest, who cares? You did your civic duty. They don’t come back clean? They are paid according to our laws and deported. If you can’t do this as an employer, you deserve prison.

    And don’t tell me how incompetent the government is, if INS (or whatever they call it now) was funded half as well as the Army, you’d be surprised what it could accomplish.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:


    Facts? He ain’t got no facts. He don’t need no facts. He don’t have to show you any stinkin’ facts!

  15. I’m gone. Tired of being accused of being a racist.

  16. JKB says:

    And don’t tell me how incompetent the government is, if INS (or whatever they call it now) was funded half as well as the Army, you’d be surprised what it could accomplish.

    Really, is that why the Obama administration wrote a brief against the AZ law now pending before the SCOTUS because it imposed penalties against employers up to losing their business license. Reason, it was harsher than the federal government wanted to be with employers.

    Or the SB 1070, that simply reports unauthorized aliens to the proper federal agency for determination and action, i.e., why should those crossing illegally be spared the bureaucratic burdens imposed on those who enter legally?

    Funding is an issue but most importantly is the federal government’s policy not to enforce the law too effectively. A more honest policy would be to aggressively deport illegals and permit a similar number of those applying for lawful entry in.

  17. I’m gone. Tired of being accused of being a racist


  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    The wicked man fleeth where no man pursueth.

  19. Brummagem Joe says:

    C’mon Steven you know as well as I do that making stuff up or turning snapshots into full lenghth motion pictures has become standard operating practice amongst Republicans these days. This habit is why they are going to find it so difficult to govern if they ever return to power. You can’t make policy on the basis of ideology and tall tales because the inevitable result will be disaster. The alternative of making policy on the basis of reality is going to alienate large parts of their base and consequently provoke primary challenges and so forth. This is ultimately a recipe for political chaos.

  20. Pete says:
  21. @Pete: I must confess these theories that keep floating out there (and that have been floating out there since just after 9/11) that the southern border is going to become a major transit point for Islamic terrorists to be nothing but speculative and, indeed, rather unlikely to take place.

    At a minimum I would note that the 9/11 hijackers easily entered the country legally. The Show Bomber and Underwear bomber, likewise. The only land-border crossing attempt (associated with the New Year’s Day plot) was via Canada.

    Almost all of that post linked above is fantastical speculation and nothing more. It is rife with profound misunderstandings of Mexican politics and the drug war in general. Indeed, it is primarily based on the speculative rantings of a member of Congress, not hard evidence.

    And while there have been attempts to find serious connections between Latin American drug cartels and Hezbollah, none have been located.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    “Why is it so hard to admit that there is no massive immigrant-fueled violent crime wave going on in AZ?”

    Isn’t it obvious? Without that kind of argument, it is a bit harder to paint all those illegal immigrants as the scary “other” that are “invading” the country and supposedly causing all kinds of havoc…

  23. Pete says:

    Steven, I posted that article to highlight the possible repercussions of Mexico descending into chaos versus supporting the assertions of current crime. What does happen if the scenario he paints does begin to “metastasize?”

  24. Pete,

    The thing is, the scenario in question is utterly ludicrous. I say this as an expert in Latin American politics who has also spent a lot of time studying the war on drugs. It just simply isn’t going to play out that way.

    Sure, one can play “what if” scenarios, but to be taken seriously for policy they have to be possible. (Although, yes, the military will often war game even the most outlandish scenarios).