Thursday, June 3, 2010

Crime Down Again

One of the most interesting things happening in America over the past few years has been the steady drop in violent crime. Despite the recession, the rates of homicide, armed robbery, and rape have continued to fall in most parts of the country.

Including, as Dara Lind explains, along the Mexican border. Violent crime is down in most of Arizona, even as immigration has risen. Except in one place:

There is at least one high-profile exception to the long-term statewide trend: Maricopa County, or at least the area under the rule of self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio. For years, Arpaio has been earning notoriety for putting immigration enforcement ahead of other law-enforcement priorities — a policy which will become the law of the land for all Arizona police once SB 1070 goes into effect at the end of July. But toughness doesn’t always get results. Even the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office recorded less violent crime in 2009 than it did in 2008, but that’s the first time crime has fallen in five years. And since 2002, as violent crime has fallen 12% across Arizona, it’s risen under Arpaio by a staggering fifty-eight percent.

Not all of Maricopa County is doing so badly — just the parts under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office. The local police departments watching Maricopa’s cities and towns are doing just fine. Phoenix, as Dickey notes, is a veritable success story, with a 14% drop in violent crime since 2002; other municipalities in the county, like Scottsdale (15% drop) and Mesa (30% drop), have been even more effective. It’s just the unincorporated parts of the county — the region under Arpaio’s purportedly iron fist — where violent crime has spiked so alarmingly.

I suspect there are techincal issues with these numbers, but I have seen other statistics pointing out that while Arpaio keeps getting re-elected because of his "toughness," his force is lousy at actually fighting crime. This is why most police chiefs oppose getting involved in immigration. Police need the cooperation of residents to catch criminals, and when residents won't talk to the police because they fear getting harassed about their immigration status, the police can't catch anyone.

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