Downtown El Paso skyline

Downtown El Paso

El Paso is still among the safest big cities in the nation, according to the FBI’s latest release of crime data for 2020, and ranks fourth among the nation’s big cities with no other big Texas city in the top 10.

That report came from AdvisorSmith, but El Paso Inc. looked at the FBI’s latest data on violent crimes covering 2019 and 2020, which shows El Paso to be the safest big city in Texas, followed closely by Austin when it comes to murder.

The data also reveals a significant drop in crimes from 2019 when there were 40 murders and 1,734 aggravated assaults in El Paso compared to 28 murders and 1,589 aggravated assaults in 2020. But 23 of the murders in 2019 were the grim results of the Aug. 3 Walmart shooting.

That El Paso, a relatively poor community across the border from Juárez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, is so safe has been a consistent fact for decades and hard for law enforcement to explain.

That’s particularly true when it comes to comparing what appear to be two very similar cities: El Paso, population 685,288, and Albuquerque, population 560,513, that are just 266 miles apart and ethnically similar.

But the similarities end there because they are two enormously different cities when it comes to violent crime.

Albuquerque had 84 murders last year, compared to El Paso’s 28. And El Paso’s murder rate is 4.1 per 100,000 population, compared with Albuquerque’s rate of 15.

Adding murders, rapes, robberies and assaults totals 2,166 offenses for El Paso or 316 violent crimes per 100,000 population, a common way of looking at crime to compare communities of different sizes.

Albuquerque’s 7,711 violent crimes in 2020 works out to a rate of 1,375 crimes per 100,000 population – four times higher than El Paso’s 316, raising the question as to why El Paso has always seemed to have some special sauce when it comes to crime.

“I don’t really know if there’s any magic sauce,” said El Paso police Sgt. Robert Gomez, a veteran officer who now serves as a public information officer for the department. “There’s too many variables, cultures and geographic location that would play into why this happens.

“To give you an answer about why we’re doing better than other cities is next to impossible. I think it would be very hard to nail down one reason or a group of reasons about why that happens.”

But Howard Campbell, chairman of UTEP’s Department of Sociology and a professor of anthropology for 30 years, has been looking at the issue for a long time and has identified some reasons for El Paso’s lower crime rates.

“I’ve thought about this, like many others have over the years, and I think there are a number of strong factors that help explain it,” Campbell said. “Sociological studies nationally have found that immigrant cultures tend to have lower crime rates. That’s been well-documented, especially among Latino population.

“That’s the first factor, and this is serious research, not just someone spouting opinion.”

Another factor, he said, is El Paso’s proximity to Juárez and close ties to Mexico, which amplify El Paso’s relative affluence compared with Juárez “and causes the people in El Paso who are immigrants to realize how good they have it.”

“Then, they want to stay out of trouble and progress,” Campbell said. “I think part of that has to do with a bad thing, which is immigrant populations not feeling fully enfranchised and not being very prone to taking risks, and that can lead to a kind of conservative way of living.

“But it’s also one involving not so much crime, so it’s a good thing for us.”


Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at dcrowder@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 630-6622.

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