Crime in AZ

Arizona has been experiencing a massive increase in violent crime of late, right?

I know that illegal immigration and drug trafficking are real problems that affect the state of Arizona.  However, I keep hearing how crime (especially violent crime) is up in the state and in the context of discussions about illegal immigration.  However, this isn’t true.

Via PolitiFact:

We checked the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports as well as data from Arizona’s Department of Public Safety and found Hunt is correct that crime is down.

From 2004 to 2008, data from Arizona’s DPS shows a 23 percent drop in the overall crime rate, while the FBI’s statistics on Arizona show a 19 percent drop. Although the FBI has not released all of the data on 2009, Arizona’s statistics show the crime rate in 2009 dropped an additional 12 percent.

“Crime has been going down, overall, in Arizona,” said Tony LaRose, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Tampa, but he noted it has been a national trend for the past almost three decades.”

The trend holds even if you only measure violent crime, which James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, said is the type of crime people think of when discussing crime and illegal immigrants. The violent crime rate fell 11 percent from 2004 to 2008 in Arizona.

Such facts underscore why Governor Brewer’s comments at the GOP gubernatorial debate were so absurd (see here) .   A proper accounting of crime as a variable is also, in part, what I am talking when I say thing like “It would be nice if we could get a more realistic discussion on this topic.”

Some more on this topic:

And, just for kicks, of major cities two of the top five in lowest crime rates in 2009 were border towns (San Diego and El Paso)—both in terms of violent crime and property crimes:

San Diego had the third-lowest violent crime rate among cities with populations larger than 500,000 last year, behind Honolulu and San Jose, according to newly released  FBI data.


As I keep saying, proper policy prescriptions require proper policy problem diagnoses.  Trying to cast illegal immigrants as part of wave of criminals “terrorizing” Arizonans (Brewer’s words–see link above) is a good example of not properly diagnosing the problem

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, 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. wr says:

    Yes, but if Obama had his way and wasn’t blocked by the heroic Tea Partiers, then crime would be skyrocketing.

    Heck, it works as an excuse for Teabagger ignorance about taxes, regulation and everything else, Why not crime, too?

  2. GS says:

    And you live in Alabama, yes?

    If you were to talk with Corrections and law enforcement down here in Arizona, or just do like five minutes of research sans condescension, you’d find that the proportion of Latino inmates in Arizona jails and prisons, including illegals, is increasing, while crimes committed by whites (which have been the majority throughout Arizona’s history) are steadily decreasing. Our black prison population is low, like our black population in general.

    Also, you’re mentioning property crime? Yeah, because drug cartels like to vandalize houses and commit armed robberies.

    Property crimes are an “across-the-board” type of crime, and don’t really mean much to the discussion regarding cartel-related crime, because cartel members don’t need to rob anyone’s house.

    How do you reconcile our kidnapping numbers?

    Or park-land closures?

    The real clincher re: cartels? Drug-related offenses have risen as violent crime and property crime decrease.

    I get what you’re trying to say, but I think you’re trying to play “gotcha” rather than bring anything relevant to the discussion. We’re all aware that immigration is a vital part of America. That doesn’t mean that the border is meaningless. It also doesn’t negate the fact that Mexican drug cartels are rapidly becoming the pre-eminent organized crime threat in the world, and our porous border here in Arizona is a significant contributor to that. I’m fine with people that want to come here legally. I’m fine with “fixing the system” as far as legal immigration goes. That doesn’t mean that, because Governor Brewer chose to use some populist phrasing, the question is all of the sudden moot because it’s not nuanced enough for your liking.

  3. Pete says:

    wr, have you gone to a Tea Party?

  4. Got any 2010 statistics?

  5. steve says:

    It should also be noted that deportations were up in 2009 compared with any of the previous 8 years. So, crime is down, deportations are up and now we get the Arizona law. Pure election politics.

    That said, I have come to the conclusion we should let them have their law. The Feds should back off. It is a blindingly stupid law. It does not address recidivism. It takes decisions on law enforcement out of the hands of the police. It is likely to cost a lot. We should not protect people from their own stupidity any more than absolutely necessary.


  6. @Charles: the claim has not been that all of a sudden that 2010 has seen a spike in crime.

    And no, no stats for 2010, as the year isn’t over with as yet–and indeed, since there are no stats, it would be impossible for Brewer, et al., to make any cogent claims about 2010.

  7. Tim says:

    I guess it wouldn’t sway you if it were disclosed who those committing violent crimes were. You assume that since violent crime is down that it is down across the board, which very well may not be the case. Give us THOSE stats, then tell me about it. Perhaps illegal alien gangs, oh, excuse me, undocumented gang members, have eradicated the home grown gangs and the violent crime, while down, is increasingly committed by illegal aliens. But, that wouldn’t fit the narrative, would it?

    Without telling us WHO is commiting the violent crimes you have told us nothing.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    re: Tim Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 20:58

    So why don’t you find some stats to back up your theory….otherwise, you are guilty of the same thing you accuse Steven of…

  9. Since the problems are largely in Phoenix and the border towns, statewide figures aren’t going to tell us enough about what’s going on in those locations.

  10. Dan says:

    Crime has gone down in Phoenix as well as statewide.

  11. JKB says:

    And yet the federal government has closed thousands of acres to Americans because it is to dangerous. And posted the area south of I-8 as Travel not Recommended for Americans due to Armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high speed. So while crime may be down it is because citizens are being forced out of large areas near the border.

    Or that the sheriff of Pinal country has had a contract put on his life by Mexican cartels

    Where is all the liberal cry to treat the root of the problem, which is that illegal aliens are able to operate with impunity thus encouraging more human smuggling which masks the narcotics smuggling.

  12. Franklin says:

    I guess it wouldn’t sway you if it were disclosed who those committing violent crimes were……But, that wouldn’t fit the narrative, would it?

    Furthermore, I’d like to know how much crime is due to our completely misguided and failing War on Drugs, and how much actually has to do with illegal immigration. My guess is it has almost nothing to do with the latter, but it would be difficult to quantify.

  13. steve says:

    “Or that the sheriff of Pinal country has had a contract put on his life by Mexican cartels”

    This is a drug problem, not an immigration problem. Well financed drug gangs are a completely different issue than people coming here to landscape.


  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    So while crime may be down it is because citizens are being forced out of large areas near the border.

    Yes. Because normally there are thousands and tens of thousands of Americans out there in the desert. Hell, I’d be out there right now if it wasn’t for the Mexican drug gangs.

    Dude, you understand how absurd it is to say that crime would be much higher if we didn’t keep like, eight people, from wandering around in the Sonora desert? Were they each going to be murdered ten times?

  15. anjin-san says:

    Steven, you lie! The streets of Arizona are littered with the headless corpses of victims of the brown scourge. Littered, I say…

  16. Michael Reynolds says:


    I feel we should begin every comment with “You lie!”

  17. anjin-san says:

    I got a lot of practice listening to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Rice. Of course, now we have Palin, so the tradition continues. A proud legacy for the Grand Old Party indeed.

    On a more cheerful topic, I just got the Japanese import of “Astral Weeks” & we are going to see Paul McCartney Saturday night. All that good music from the 60’s. As they say “that was a time”.

  18. grampagravy says:

    Brewer, Pearce, and lots of Republican legislators in Arizona are certainly over the top on the crime thing. I support them in this because it is fun to cheer on Republicans when they are stepping on their own dorks. But, this doesn’t change, or even relate to the fact that crime is down thanks to a crack down on illegal trespassing, identity theft, and employers who were beating the price of labor to death by hiring cash under the table illegals. One Phoenix area restaurant owner lamented some months ago that e-verify (required in AZ) would make our Mexican dinners cost more. The AZ Republic paper ran his sad story, and the only change I noticed in his place last week was that I could converse with the wait staff in English. I expect to see a further drop in crime as the illegals here run every direction but South to get out of Arizona before July 29–Sheriff Joe is coming!! Ariba!

  19. YoMamma says:

    Feel free to ignore the fact that merely *being in a foreign country without permission* is also a crime. Or is it so trivial in your eyes that it can be blithely ignored, as our Precedent does?

  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    Is anyone surprised that Brewer’s claims have turned out to be baloney. They wanted to do something so they had to make stuff up to justify it. Making stuff up has regrettably become standard operating practice for Republicans. It can get you a short term result but always comes back and bites you in the butt.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    More evidence of low crime rates in Arizona border counties.

  22. jwest says:

    Steven seems easily swayed by manipulated data.

    If you want a thoughtful analysis of the crime statistics in Arizona, look to Tom Maguire at Just One Minute:

  23. Herb says:

    Question for those desperate to prove that crime in Arizona is increasing:

    Does that mean Joe Arpaio’s methods are failing?

  24. sam says:


    “This is a drug problem, not an immigration problem. Well financed drug gangs are a completely different issue than people coming here to landscape.”

    It is not. Everybody knows that Jose, your gardener, is planting maryjane amongst your marigolds.

  25. sam says:

    “as our Precedent does”

    He might be your Precedent, he sure as hell ain’t mine.

  26. grampagravy says:

    Tens of thousands of “landscapers” running the border create a lot of cover for the drug smugglers. In this respect illegal trespassing and drug smuggling are inextricably linked. No REAL solution can treat the two as separate issues.

  27. GS says:

    Thank you, grampagravy, for very succinctly saying what I turned into a wordy post :).

  28. JKB says:

    grampagravy: Thanks, that is what I meant. If we suppress the human smuggling we can then deal with the narcotic smuggling aggressively. Or are illegal border crossings carrying illicit drugs to be protected as well.

    In any case, why worry about Arizona? Illegal immigrants can still cross into California, New Mexico and Texas where the law is more amenable. Really as long as they avoid Arizona and Rhode Island, they should find lots of sanctuary. Although there are states starting to check immigration status of those arrested. Someone publish the sanctuary city directory in Spanish for the poor immigrants.

  29. @JKB and grampagravy:

    The thing is, that while these are problems that overlap (i.e., illegal immigration and the narcotics trade), they aren’t the same problems and do, to a substantial degree, need to be viewed as different problems.

  30. @jwest:

    Steven seems easily swayed by manipulated data.

    This amuses me. Because as we all know, the FBI, Arizona DPS and the law enforcement officials on the border (see the link above provided by Dave) are all known for their desire the manipulate crime stats. And these are the sources the form the basis of this post.

    To paraphrase a former SecDef: you must argue with the reality that you have, not the reality that you might want or wish to have.

  31. MarkedMan says:

    “as our Precedent does”

    Obama is your ancestor?

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  32. grampagravy says:

    Steven L. Taylor:
    “The thing is, that while these are problems that overlap (i.e., illegal immigration and the narcotics trade), they aren’t the same problems and do, to a substantial degree, need to be viewed as different problems.

    I would like to hear how one would separate the issue of WHO comes over the border illegally from the issue of WHAT comes over the border illegally.

  33. I would like to hear how one would separate the issue of WHO comes over the border illegally from the issue of WHAT comes over the border illegally.

    Well, for one thing, it is actually easier to get drugs across than people. And while drugs can come along with said people, they also can come across in a myriad of other ways. Assuming that they are both essentially coming in the same way is simply conflating two different problems that can overlap, but often do not.

    Indeed, my educated guess is that most drugs from Mexico don’t come into the US via Arizona, and especially don’t come across the desert. I say “guess” because I don’t have a citation at the moment and I say “educated” because I have paid quite a bit of attention to this problem for some time and know the basic evolution of drug smuggling into the US since the 1970s and know that it has manifested in a myriad of ways and that the traffickers have far better ways of getting drugs into the country than walking them across the Sonoran desert.

    There are, in recent years, more border crossing into AZ by persons seeking work in the US, and this is mostly a result of heavier fortifications in CA. It is just a shift of an existing flow. SB1070, btw, isn’t going to solve that problem.

    Indeed, this is part of the point of this post: the conflation of several issues into one grand assertion about illegal immigrants and crime obscures a complex and multi-faceted problem.

  34. grampagravy says:

    You are absolutely right Steven, and I don’t think anything I have posted refutes what you say above. The “grand assertion” however that I will make is that our border is out of control, allowing drugs, masses of illegal people, and who knows what else to slip through. The incentive for drug dealers won’t be eliminated until we adopt a smarter drug policy. The incentive for the masses of people to cross can be eliminated by strict enforcement of rigid immigration policies and penalties for those on this side who employ illegals-along with a legal means for law abiding workers to cross as needed. The incentive for the who knows what guys (possibly the scariest of the bunch) may never go away, but once they are the only ones running over, under, and around the border they’ll be a little easier to catch. Complex, multi-faceted problems require a series of simple solutions (SB1070 anyone?), not endless academic debates over how complex they are.

  35. @gamdpagravy: we agree more than we disagree.

    I agree that endless debate is not warranted, but would vehemently disagree that the general public (or, for that matter, most politicians) have had anywhere near enough education on the topics of drugs and immigration. As such, I think we need a lot more debate, not less.

    And, to be honest, the more I think about SB1070, the more I am not sure that it will accomplish all that much (perhaps a slight increase in deportations). Yes, it may create incentives for illegals to migrate to other states (maybe) but isn’t like illegals don’t already face the real chance of deportation.

    In short: if I am willing to risk death walking through the Sonoran desert so that I can get a job cleaning toilets at a Tucson McDonald’s, it is unlikely that an increased chance of being deported is going to dissuade me.

  36. davod says:

    Jwest says: Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 08:52 referred to Tom Maguire’s analysis of the FBI data at .

    The post includes a lot of data and several charts but I will include here only Maguire’s final words :

    “The rural crime rate for 2006 has moved up by about 75 and the 2007 rate has moved up by about 100 while the big city rate is relentlessly dropping, yet per Mr. Fox, “There was no change, however, in the overall conclusion”. OK… “

  37. davod says:


    I saw a video from National Geographic that demonstrated that the drug cartels have taken over the illegal immigrant smuggling and the illegals are used as mules during their journey.

  38. grampagravy says:

    Steven, can I suggest that those who wish to keep talking do so without interfering with those who are doing something? Thanks for the olive branch!
    “In short: if I am willing to risk death walking through the Sonoran desert so that I can get a job cleaning toilets at a Tucson McDonald’s, it is unlikely that an increased chance of being deported is going to dissuade me.”

    The above is why severe penalties for the McDonald’s operator are warranted. A major portion of the problem is solved when the incentives for making the trek are eliminated.
    There’s already been decades of talk without action, and the general public understands enough to say “enough.” Contributions to defend against the challenges against SB1070 are over $.5M so far, and are coming in as small donations from individuals. The message to the Fed is “if you won’t do it we will.”
    I’ll say it again, the hyperbole (go ahead and substitute outright lies here) coming from Brewer, Pearce, et al are a side-show I view with a certain amount of glee, but the D.O.J. suing AZ for usurping federal authority is scandalous given that the fed has abdicated that responsibility for over 5 decades. Let’s hope the outcome is the political will to tackle comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the incentives for crossing illegally as well as the handling of those who scoff at the law by coming anyway.
    And, I still think building a fence is like sand-bagging the laundry room doorway because the washer is leaking…shut the damn water off!

  39. SteveCan says:

    The author needs to spend some time in Yuma before he spouts nonsense …

  40. jwest says:


    “This amuses me. Because as we all know, the FBI, Arizona DPS and the law enforcement officials on the border (see the link above provided by Dave) are all known for their desire the manipulate crime stats.”

    As with any data produced by the government, someone has a desire to manipulate it.

    Having funded research into this subject in 1993, we found that the Uniform Crime Reporting system is anything but “uniform”. Even a cursory look at the underlying figures will reveal that the state-to-state comparisons are worthless at best.

    Violent crime statistics are a combination of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault (AA). In any community, murder, rape and robbery add up to a small portion of the aggregate number, with AA driving the overall crime rate. As you probably know, family violence composes the vast majority of AA, so in order to assess the manipulation of violent crime data you look to the AA rate.

    Some states have made the conscious decision to be known as low-crime states. Others believe that showing a high number of cases and clearances shows effective policing and prosecution, while also making the case for increases in federal/state law enforcement subsidies. Check the individual state reports for Connecticut or West Virginia. You will find that AA is split into two sections – the first is normal AA and is reported to the FBI, the second is titled “Family Violence” and is not reported. Naturally, this makes these states seem like islands of love and harmony, as compared to others.

    Conversely, Michigan and Tennessee report all AA to the FBI. On top of that, they include items no one would ever think of including in the crime report such as prisoner-on-prisoner assaults inside their jails and prisons. This makes it seem like these states (and the communities in which the prisons are located) are crime-ridden hell holes. Great for justifying police staffing and overtime levels but not so good for tourism commercials.

    In discussions with the Deputy Director of the FBI and the head of the UCR commission, this difference in reporting standards was not deemed a problem. The UCR is a voluntary system and the FBI is just happy to have someone filling out their forms. On the state level, the way data is reported is a political decision.

    My advice to you is to be skeptical of anything and everything the government puts out. Just because something is presented as fact rarely means you should take it to the bank.

  41. @SteveCan:

    I have driven through Yuma more than once, but will allow that I do not have a lot of on the ground experience there. So, I will turn to someone who has:

    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.

    “It almost seems like Yuma is more of an entryway” for smugglers rather than a combat zone, he said.

    Source (via Dave Shuler above): click.

    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.

    Understand: it is possible for it to be simultaneously true that crime in AZ is down and for there still to be serious issues related to illegal immigration and drug trafficking. However, it is unclear to me why it is wrong to put out when politicians are shading the truth (to out it conservatively).

  42. jwest: skepticism is always a healthy attitude in general, I will allow.

    Out of curiosity, who is the “we” of whom you speak?

  43. jwest says:


    “Out of curiosity, who is the “we” of whom you speak?”

    Just a private corporation. At that time in the early ‘90s we had an issue in locating a manufacturing facility and relocating personnel. One of the factors considered was the crime rate of the communities involved.

  44. jwest says:


    Just out of curiosity, are there any other government numbers you take as accurate, such as CBO estimates, unemployment figures, global warming data, etc.?

  45. jwest:

    Healthy skepticism is legit and some things are more easily measurable than others.

    However, the notion that one ought to outright reject numbers just because the “government” produced them strikes me as problematic as well.

    Indeed, I am not sure at this stage what your point is. It is a problematic stance to ask me to treat with great skepticism FBI and AZ DPS figures, but to accept a 1993 study by a private firm about which I only have the word of a blog commenter. No disrespect intended, but surely you can see the point.

  46. jwest says:


    The point is to emphasize the disparity in government statistics between what is presented and what the actual facts are, in order to bring a higher level of understanding to you and your readers.

    One would think, as you did, that the FBI crime statistics would be reasonably accurate and straightforward, free from political manipulation. Out of all the reports that government agencies issue, this is one that most people would rely on to make intelligent, informed choices on spending, policy and other matters.

    My comment laid out the way different states manipulate their data and showed how the comparisons arrived at using this are far from useful. You don’t need to rely on my explanation of the data, as now most everything is available for viewing online. Back in ’93, individual hard copies of each state’s report needed to be requested in writing, then entered into primitive spreadsheets for analysis. I can assure you, the more you look into the details the more you will realize the depth of the bad decisions being made due to the bad data being presented as “fact”.

    In my experience on this matter, I found two types of people who had authority over how the numbers were reported. The first were the political ones who knew exactly what they were doing and the second were the ones who just didn’t care.

    Hopefully, exposing inaccuracies like this will trickle down through the online community so that everything is checked and double checked. We know we can’t rely on the lazy MSM to dig for the truth, so the next lines of defense are the website writers who have a platform and audience.

    Good facts produce good decisions.