Half-True
Hinojosa
"We have less crime in the (Rio Grande) Valley than we do in other major Texas cities."

Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa on Monday, July 21st, 2014 in a press release

Does Rio Grande Valley have less crime than major Texas cities? Depends on the crime

A South Texas state senator objected to Gov. Rick Perry’s plans to send up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border by suggesting crime in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley isn’t as bad as in other parts of the state.

In a July 21, 2014, press release, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said the "humanitarian crisis" reflected in Central Americans crossing the Rio Grande "needs to be resolved through immigration reform and working with Mexico and Central American countries to stop the flow  of immigrants coming across our border. To call up the National Guard is a very simplistic approach to a complex problem."

Besides, Hinojosa said, "we have less crime in the Valley than we do in other major Texas cities. If we were to use crime as a basis to deploy the National Guard then we should be sending the National Guard to other metropolitan areas in our state."

Has there been less crime in the region closest to the state’s southern tip than its big cities hundreds of miles away?

We’ve explored crime near the border before. In March 2010, we rated as Pants on Fire Perry’s claim that his border-security efforts led to a 60 percent decrease in border crime. His cited calculations didn’t consider crimes committed in cities and towns where most border residents live. It also compared two calendar quarters rather than weighing years of data. Later, we saw flaws in descriptions of El Paso as the nation’s safest city, partly because the FBI has counseled against using its crime research to reach comparative judgments.

In this instance, we were curious about Hinojosa’s twist on the crime comparison.

Asked how Hinojosa reached his conclusion, Luis Moreno, his Senate chief of staff, forwarded a July 24, 2014, email from the Texas Department of Public Safety including a chart tallying arrests in 2013 and "to date" in 2014 in counties including Hidalgo in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2013 and in 2014, the chart shows, Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar counties each had more arrests than Hidalgo County. Nueces County, home to Corpus Christi, had the fewest arrests among the checked counties. Moreno said he did not ask DPS to convert the arrest counts to arrest rates.

FBI crime figures

As we launched our run at comparisons, we recognized with the help of Texas criminologists that the latest available data, as compiled by the FBI, enable comparisons only through the first half of 2013. That omits the 12 months through June 2014 — the period during which officials including Perry raised stepped-up concerns about border security in the wake of more unaccompanied children crossing the Rio Grande.

That caveat in mind, we looked at different reported crimes by county and city, finding the senator’s statement held up for many -- but not all -- comparisons. We drew our figures from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program, which tracks seven "index" crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. A hedge: State officials have said these counts underreport the amount of drug-cartel-related violence by not folding in common cartel-tied offenses such as extortion and kidnapping, as the Austin American-Statesman noted in an October 2011 news story on crime in the border region.

Strap in; our comparisons follow.

Total reported offenses, January through June 2013

An FBI chart presents counts of reported offenses in the first half of 2013 for more than 20 Texas cities, rolling in several of the biggest cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin but not Fort Worth) and smaller cities including Brownsville and McAllen, key cities in the Rio Grande Valley, which consists of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties.

In the first half of 2013, each of the big cities had more total reported incidents of violent and property crime than the two valley cities. But that’s arguably not surprising given that Houston, Dallas and the other non-valley cities are much more populous than their valley counterparts.

Adjusting for population differences

To account for population differences, we focused on estimated rates of violent and property crimes per 100,000 residents.

By this balancing metric, each of the sampled big cities had a higher rate of violent crime than Brownsville or McAllen in the first half of 2013. McAllen also had the lowest rate of property crime in this sampling. But the reported property-crime rate for Brownsville (2,156 per 100,000 residents) narrowly outpaced the rate for Dallas (2,137 per 100,000 residents).

Crime rates, 2012

Seeking a full year’s comparison, we turned to population-adjusted rates for specific reported crimes in 2012 as broken out in an undated annual report by the DPS.

Generally, the report showed, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin had more crimes per 100,000 residents than the valley cities of Brownsville and McAllen or the valley counties of Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr.

But there were indications of places in the valley experiencing more crime.

Rural Willacy County, population 8,355, bested all our sampled cities and counties with 108 rapes per 100,000 residents, based on its 2012 total of nine reported rapes. Based on 37 total reported assaults, the county also trailed only Houston in our sampling in its rate of aggravated assaults, and it landed third for its rate of reported burglaries.

Also, Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen had higher rates of reported larceny than Houston or Dallas, according to the report. Another twist: Harlingen’s general rate of 5,279 reported crimes per 100,000 residents (based on 3,543 total reported offenses) exceeded Dallas’ rate of 5,049 reported crimes per 100,000 residents (based on 62,680 reported offenses).

Crime Rates for Selected Texas Cities and Rio Grande Valley Counties, 2012 (Per 100,000 Residents)

JURISDICTION

MURDER

RAPE

ROBBERY

AGG. ASSAULT

BURGLARY

LARCENY

AUTO THEFT

TOTAL

Houston Police Department

10

31

431

521

1223

3122

600

5938

Dallas PD

12

39

330

294

1296

2509

569

5049

San Antonio PD

6

40

135

322

1135

4393

461

6493

Austin PD

4

25

117

263

870

4072

278

5628

McAllen PD

<1

2

41

78

371

3500

155

4148

Brownsville PD

2

21

69

170

632

3858

114

4865

Harlingen PD

6

34

92

271

903

3807

165

5279

Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office

9

26

55

120

972

1420

113

2715

Cameron County SO

4

14

18

99

584

970

81

1770

Starr County SO

5

14

11

245

427

422

79

1202

Willacy County SO

0

108

12

443

1161

1867

108

3698

Source: Texas Department of Public Safety, "Texas Crime 2012, Chapter 10, Texas Crime by Jurisdiction" (downloaded July 22, 2014)

Rates of reported violent and property crimes by county, 2012

Next, we employed crime data posted online by the FBI and U.S. Census Bureau population estimates to calculate and compare 2012 violent and property crime rates for the most populous counties outside the valley and the valley’s most populous counties. In this snapshot, Harris County had the No. 1 violent crime rate, but the valley’s Starr County landed second and Hidalgo County was third. Willacy County didn’t show up in this data set.

Harris County also ranked first in its rate of reported property crimes in our sampling. However,  the valley counties--Hidalgo, Starr and Cameron--ranked second, third and fourth ahead of Bexar, Travis and Tarrant counties.

Violent and Property Crime Rates, Selected Texas Counties, 2012

Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics

COUNTY

POPULATION

VIOLENT CRIME RATE

PROPERTY CRIME RATE

Bexar

1,785,704

27

358

Cameron

415,457

34

417

Harris

4,253,700

174

1,235

Hidalgo

806,552

65

778

Starr

61,615

164

553

Tarrant

1,880,153

7

66

Travis

1,095,584

41

290

 

Sources: PolitiFact Texas calculation drawing on 2012 county population estimates by U.S. Census Bureau, December 2012, as posted online by the Texas State Library & Archives Commission and crime counts from FBI, "Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, Local Level Reported Crime," for 2012 (accessed July 28, 2014)

Our ruling

Hinojosa said the valley has less crime than major Texas cities beyond the border region.

We don’t know how crime compares in this way for the months since June 2013. But for 2012 and the first half of 2013, reported crime rates, adjusted for population differences, mostly showed the big cities outside the valley experiencing more crime. However, some valley locales had higher rates than non-valley places in our data sifts.

On balance, we rate the senator's claim as Half True.


HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.