03/06/13 – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last month analyzing data on Mexican drug cartel-related crime in U.S. border states. The report, titled “Southwest Border Security: Data are Limited and Concerns Vary about Spillover Crime Along the Southwest Border,” was based on federal and municipal crime data and on-the-ground visits and interviews from January 2004 through December 2011, in 24 southwest border counties. (To read the full report, click here.) The purpose of the study was to identify trends in reported data, efforts to track data, and concerns and initiatives on crime and violence related to drug cartel activity spilling over from Mexico to the four U.S. states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—that border Mexico.
Despite the limitations in available data—ranging from the lack of a standard definition of spillover crime to underreporting by federal, state, and local agencies—the GAO found that both violent and property crime in border states was generally lower in 2011 than in 2004. This finding contradicts the general assumption that Mexico’s drug cartel violence is spreading to neighboring U.S. states. As reported by the Trans-Border Institute in its report “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis through 2011,” in roughly the same period the GAO report covers, the six Mexican states that share a border with the United States have witnessed a quintupling of homicides related to organized crime. To read TBI’s full report on drug violence in Mexico in 2011, click here.
Interviews with local, state, and federal U.S. officials by the GAO revealed varying concerns about spillover crime along the border. While 31 of 37 state and local agencies did not observe violent crime from Mexico affecting their communities, 33 of 37 did express concern for the safety of law enforcement officers and residents. For example, one official in New Mexico reported that drug smugglers being pursued by law enforcement personnel ram police vehicles to avoid capture. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assessments also highlight the increasingly aggressive tactics used by armed drug and human smugglers to evade U.S. law enforcement.
The GAO report further describes a number of U.S. government strategies and initiatives to combat security threats to the United States posed by Mexico’s drug cartels. Some of these include the Mérida Initiative, a multi-year, billion dollar security cooperation partnership between the United States and Mexico; the creation of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit, the Latin American Southwest Border Threat Section, which focuses exclusively on drug cartel issues; and the DHS Border Violence Protocols, which detail steps to report border violence incidents and set out enhanced coordination policies between U.S. and Mexican agencies. On a local and state level, officials interviewed by the GAO stated that their agencies had undertaken individual or cooperative efforts to combat spillover of drug cartel crime in their jurisdictions.
The GAO report was requested by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), a ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), a ranking member of the Committee’s Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX).