Last month, two retired Army generals, flanked by the state officials who had hired them, stood in the Texas Capitol and painted an alarming picture of escalating violence on the Texas-Mexico border. Their report, which relied less on crime statistics than anecdotal evidence, concluded that the Texas side of the border had become a “war zone.”
But a closer look at crime numbers in border counties since 2006 — the year Mexican violence began to spike in earnest — does not reveal evidence of out-of-control chaos. An American-Statesman analysis of all 14 counties that share a border with Mexico and two dozen border cities shows that violent crime along the Texas side of the Rio Grande fell 3.3 percent between 2006 and 2010.
During the same period, the combined number of murders in the 14 counties fell 33 percent, to 73 in 2010 from 97 in 2006.
One reason for the gap between what state officials say and what the numbers show is that state agencies increasingly have moved away from using traditional statistics to describe the security situation along the border, and have instead begun using new categories of crime reporting that in some cases have raised questions about accuracy.
The Department of Public Safety, for example, has begun keeping a list of what it considers cartel-related killings in the state.
Yet two Austin-area murders on the list appear to have been caused by a fight over a cellphone, according to court records. The connection of murders in other parts of the state to cartel members have been questioned by border law enforcement chiefs as well.