Sunday, November 7, 2010

El Paso crime rate down; Homicides noticeably drop

By Daniel Borunda \ EL PASO TIMES
Posted: 11/07/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

El Paso is on pace this year to have its lowest number of homicides in recent history, even as murders continue uncontrolled across the border in Juárez.

With less than two months to go in 2010, crime is down 1 percent overall, officials said. The most startling drop is in homicides.

This year, there have been three homicides in El Paso, including one Saturday. That compares with 10 at this time last year, which ended with a total of 12.

"It is low," Assistant Police Chief Eric Shelton said. "Once again, it is how safe the streets are in El Paso. In general, homicides will occur in areas that are unsafe and I don't believe El Paso has an area that is dangerous."

El Paso has had a low rate of violent crime for more than a decade, but three homicides is low even for the second-safest large city in the nation. The city of El Paso has more than 620,000 residents, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated last year in its most recent population update.

One homicide has occurred in El Paso County outside the city limits, a possible drug-related shooting by masked gunmen at a home in Fabens. The case remains unsolved.

El Paso averaged 16 homicides a year in the past decade. And it has averaged four killings during November-December in the past four years.

Police and civic leaders credit community involvement, help from federal law enforcement and residents' willingness to report suspicious activity for helping fight crime.

The drop in homicides in El Paso occurred while murders are on pace to set another unwanted record in Juárez, where more than 2,500 people have died violently this year.

"The big difference between El Paso and Juárez -- and I have to present this argument all the time -- in El Paso we trust the police," El Paso Mayor John Cook said.

"If we call to report a drug dealer down the street, we don't worry that the police officer will turn around and tell the drug dealer 'Hey, the guy down the street is saying you are a drug dealer.'

"That is the reality in Mexico. You can't trust if law enforcement is on your side."

El Paso County has a population of about 751,000. Juárez's population is estimated at 1.3 million.

Besides the drop in homicides, El Paso police report declines in auto thefts, 14 percent; vehicle burglaries, 23 percent; burglaries, 5 percent; and thefts, 4 percent.

Robberies and assaults are up, 7 and 5 percent, respectively, according to data as of Oct. 16.

To curb assaults, police are keeping a closer watch on bars, including making "bar checks." Several officers will enter an establishment to check for problems, Shelton said. The practice has been criticized as heavy-handed by some bar owners and customers.

Police said they were optimistic the city will end the year with a reduction in crime, but they are cautious because home and vehicle burglaries tend to jump during the holiday season.

They will focus on trying to prevent vehicle burglaries during the holidays.

"People go from store to store shopping," Shelton said. "Unfortunately, they leave packages in plain view. It is a perfect target for a criminal. You would be surprised how many (drivers) forget to lock their vehicles."

Crime may be down, but El Paso is often having to fight out-of-town misconceptions that it is a violent city because it is next to Juárez, Cook said. "It's a continuous battle having to fight that PR issue," he said.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at; 546-6102.

The numbers:
- El Paso has more than 620,000 residents. Juárez about 1.3 million.
- El Paso averaged 16 homicides a year in the past decade.
- Three homicides haveoccurred in El Paso this year.
- El Paso has averaged four killings during November-December in the past four years.
- In Juárez, more than 2,500 people have died violently this year.

No comments: