January 23, 2009

El Paso's low crime rate

The NYT article "Two Sides of a Border: One Violent, One Peaceful" compares the low murder rate in El Paso to the carnage in Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande (which, when I crossed the bridge that figures in "No Country for Old Men" in 1980, cost me $0.02 each way). The newspaper mentions various theories, but the article should have mentioned that El Paso has long been famous for an anomalously low crime rate.

Here's an article entitled "The Texas Tranquilizer" from Time's archives, dated October 4, 1971:

By legend Texans are a grandiose breed with more than the natural share of megalomaniacs. But University of Texas Biochemist Earl B. Dawson thinks that he detects an uncommon pocket of psychological adjustment around El Paso. The reason, says Dawson, lies in the deep wells from which the city draws its water supply.

According to Dawson's studies of urine samples from 3,000 Texans, El Paso's water is heavily laced with lithium, a tranquilizing chemical widely used in the treatment of manic depression and other psychiatric disorders. He notes that Dallas, which has low lithium levels because it draws its water from surface supplies, has "about seven times more admissions to state mental hospitals than El Paso." But state mental health officials point out that the mental hospital closest to Dallas is 35 miles from the city, while the one nearest El Paso is 350 miles away—and the long distance could affect admission figures.

But FBI statistics show that while Dallas had 5,970 known crimes per 100,000 population last year, El Paso had 2,889 per 100,000. Dallas (pop. 844,000) had 242 murders, El Paso (pop. 323,000) only 13. Dr. Frederick Goodwin, an expert on lithium studies for the National Institute of Mental Health, doubts that "lithium has these magical properties in the population." Others are not so sure. If lithium does have anything to do with the relative peace in El Paso, what would it do for other cities like New York and Chicago?

I have no idea if Dawson's lithium theory panned out, but it's fun to recall something I heard about three decades ago when I went to Rice U. in Houston.

By the way, I give reporter James C. McKinley a thumbs-up for using the dreaded V word correctly for once in describing a Mexican neighborhood:
Across the river, the once-vibrant streets of Juárez are dark and gloomy, as residents scurry for home.

My recollection of my evening in Ciudad Juarez in 1980 was that the tourist section was, indeed, "vibrant" -- which, I insist, should only be used to denote a neighborhood with lots of loud live music coming out of the doors of bars (e.g., you can rightly call the French Quarter in New Orleans vibrant, but calling Van Nuys, CA "vibrant" just shows you can't think of anything else to say about it).

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Just a dumb question: Are the people living each side of the fence they same type, if you know what I mean?

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of El Paso's low crime rate. However, it seems likely that I knew a man who had...

Ten or more years ago, Stephen King published "The End of the Whole Mess," a short story featuring a little Texas town that has zero crime and a happy little population. And someone figures it must be something in the water, and wants to seed this water round the world and stop all the crime. But of course not all is as it seems with this water.

Great throwaway story. It's always fun to see where an author found an idea.

mnuez said...

The lithium thing is cool (and raises a very obvious question that on account of rational or irrational fears no one is likely to seriously raise) but that's really all I can say about it. As for El Paso and Juarez, I was there recently and this humongous Mexican bouncer at a bar some two hundred meters from the border told me that I'd have to be insane to cross over into Juarez at midnight. He said, "I'm Mexican and I wouldn't dare go there at this hour!"

Of course I went, but after getting some interested stares from some scary looking people, I cut my foolhardy excursion short (and spent the next few hours helping some seemingly dangerous el paso "youts" jump start their remnant of a car. No harm befell me though so there's at least one thumbs-up from drugging the populace :-)


One more thing: Anyone who's driven around a few states in a car without excellent shocks must have noticed the extremely different state of the asphalt (or whatever) in varying states, (probably as a result of the level of local taxation). I mention this because, as a Californian I was absolutely astounded by how rundown the streets of El Paso were. (It was almost like they were a Republican-run state or something.) Similarly, having crossed into and out of Southern Nevada from California via every land-route available (with the windows down in an older car) it's astonishing how you can always tell PRECISELY where one state ends and the other begins by the sudden change of the smoothness of the drive.

Anonymous said...

The lithium stuff is interesting - I wonder if it's true. Maybe the next step would be to check blood levels of lithium and corellate them with violent crime.

I visited Juarez mseveral times back in the 80's, and vibrant is indeed the right word to describe it. My wife and I walked and rode taxis all over town and never had a single problem. Lots of music and street entertainment, pretty good food, cheap handmade goods - real good stuff for a tourista.

Last month I heard a presentation from a church group that spent a month in Juarez. What a change! There was gunfire (including automatic weapons) every night. One weekend there were 21 murders. The residents hid behind barracaded doors and never went out at night. Even during the day the streets were nearly deserted.

I wonder where Juarez gets its water supply?

Anonymous said...

Ha, Ha! Yep, I'm sure it's El Paso's *water* that explains the very low crime rate!

It's interesting that all the other most heavily Latino immigrant cities in America such as Santa Ana, Anaheim, and San Jose also have very low crime/murder rates. I guess Latinos just tend to settle in cities with lots of lithium in the water for some unknown reason.

And don't forget that crime/murder rates dropped yet again last year in Steve's own home town of Los Angeles, also very heavily Latino immigrant these days. LA's serious crime/murder rates are now the lowest they've been in something like SEVENTY (!!!) years. I guess there's just been some huge rise in local water's lithium level since Steve was growing up there himself. Pretty mysterious if you ask me.

On the other hand, the American cities with the highest crime/murder rates are places like Detroit, Oakland, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. I'll bet the common factor is again something in the local water supply...

Truth said...

"t's interesting that all the other most heavily Latino immigrant cities in America such as Santa Ana, Anaheim, and San Jose also have very low crime/murder rates...."

The why is Juarez so dangerous, and Mexico City possibly the most dangerous city in the world right now?

Anonymous said...

Part of Van Nuys is actually trying to become part of (pretty un-vibrant) Sherman Oaks.

albertosaurus said...

This lithium theory doesn't make much prima facie sense.

Lithium is a specific for depression so presumably if there were a town with extra lithium in the water the chemically undepressed populace would be up and out cheerfully getting into mischief. A town without lithium in the water should have its depressives alone at home in a dark room quietly weeping.

Anonymous said...

I hate to think what is in the ground water on the Mexican side.

Dennis Mangan said...

Actually there's some debate on whether lithium is an essential nutrient. If it is, the water theory could make sense.


Also, higher fish consumption correlates with lower crime.


Anonymous said...

Albertosaurus, lithium is used mainly for mania, not depression. And it's more for maintenance for people with serious mania too, not *just* hypomania, though a lot of psychiatrists use it for anyone with any mania.

The issue I have with the theory is that for lithium to work it apparently has to get up to a certain concentration in the bloodstream. I can't imagine it's really getting up that high, especially since there would be side effects with at least some people (when I took it if I went just a little off I'd get sick). Maybe it doesn't really have to get up that high for non-bipolars, but I was always told it's pretty pointless to take it if you're not going to get up to that level.

All this talk makes me think of Serenity (the movie).

Mnuez, I-10 turns to shit immediately over the border from TX to Louisiana. Definitely noticeable, no matter how good your shocks.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that many of El Paso's Hispanic criminals tend to migrate to more exciting locales? For example, Night Stalker Richard Ramirez found his native El Paso too dull and departed for Los Angeles. In the process, he went from being a petty Tejano burglar to a Kalifornia serial killer.

How many of El Paso's criminals have left for Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Chicago?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that all the other most heavily Latino immigrant cities in America such as Santa Ana, Anaheim, and San Jose also have very low crime/murder rates. I guess Latinos just tend to settle in cities with lots of lithium in the water for some unknown reason.

Perhaps, but it would be more interesting if you were to compare the crime rates of Latinos in these communities to the crime rates of non-Hispanic whites nationally rather than employing the national average -- with whites, blacks, and Hispanics included -- in your analysis. Sadly, political correctness keeps us from gathering any direct crime statistics on Latinos. We know their incarceration rates are dismal.

The black population in the United States isn't set to decline as the Hispanic population explodes. So why should whites care if blacks are far more prone to criminality than Hispanics if Hispanics are still commit more crime than whites?

Anonymous said...

Why is El Paso's crime rate so low?

Because Oppressor-Americans stole the peaceful side from the Mexicans!!


Anonymous said...

If lithium is supposed to alter behavior imagine what fluoride does.

Anonymous said...

One way to categorize violence is by its degree of randomness. As the War Nerd has pointed out, a people that's good at organized violence is typically lacking when it comes to the random kind and vice versa. The Germans and the Japanese stick out as examples of that in the 20th century. Everyday life in Japan is extremely peaceful, but when the Japanese are organized for the purpose of fighting - look out. The reverse also holds. I'm sure that Lagos, Nigeria is anything but safe to walk at night, but the Nigerian army has yet to impress the War Nerd or anyone else.

Notice that the NYT article describes Juarez's crime problem as a turf war between drug cartels. The article says that most of the victims are young men who were recruited by the cartels from outside of Juarez to fight in the turf war.

The level of organization here is of course far below that of imperial Japan during WWII, but it also seems to be above what you'd expect in a place like Lagos or, for that matter, in Detroit. What was Juarez's murder rate before that turf war started? I wouldn't be shocked if it was similar to the current rate for El Paso. Neither would I be shocked if after the turf war is over (let's say someone comes out a winner), the murder rate goes back down to an El Paso-like level.

Anonymous said...

I wish RKU would try and actually articulate his theories rather than relying on sarcasm *all the time*. Sarcasm is neither funny nor insightful.

Does RKU believe that Hispanics are less criminal than whites? Or does he believe they commit more crime than whites, but that this is offset because their very presence considerably lowers white crime? Or does he believe Hispanics are bimodal for crime, with some populations committing far more crime than whites, and others committing far less?

In short, please make or dispute specific claims, instead of eternally relying on innuendo that leaves you safely unaccountable and elucidates nothing.

Robert said...

There were only two murders in North Dakota last year, neither a gun crime, by the way. Must be all the peaceful Latino immigrants. Or is there mucho lithium in the lakes and rivers up there?

Truth said...

"Neither would I be shocked if after the turf war is over (let's say someone comes out a winner), the murder rate goes back down to an El Paso-like level."

The problem with violence in Detroit, Harlem, etc. is also a 'turf' war in that drug dealers, pimps and gambling operators shoot each other over corners and corresponding resources (drugs, women, money, cars, etc.) This is of course, also the story of the Gulf War, but that's a graduate level class.

The problems of Detroit and Juarez are not that different (although statistically Juarez is more dangerous.)

PS: what makes you think there will be a 'winner' at least in the near future, in this war. One side 'wins' and a charismatic 14-year old barrio/ghetto dog is born to take up the mantle of 'looser.'

Anonymous said...

Truth wrote:

The problems of Detroit and Juarez are not that different (although statistically Juarez is more dangerous.)

The difference between Juarez's and Detroit's criminal groups appears to be in the level of organization. When I hear the words "drug cartel", I picture an organization that buys raw materials at their source, sometimes an ocean or two away from where they're marketable, figures out a way to transport this merchandise across said oceans in circumvention of international law, processes the raw materials into a marketable form, and, finally, bribes politicians who live in a variety of countries and speak a variety of languages. I'm thinking of people like Pablo Escobar. They're more like CEOs of large companies than like guys selling drugs on the street. Also, a certain level of discipline and reliability is required from the workforce for all the constituent parts of such businesses to come together and for a profit to be made. And where there's innate discipline, there's a potential for having safe streets, and many positive things besides that. Juarez is currently not fulfilling this potential, but it probably was in the past (Steve says it was vibrant, not "vibrant" when he visited it in 1980) and it may again in the future. El Paso is fulfilling this potential right now.

I just looked up the "Juarez Cartel" on the Wikipedia: "At its height, the Juárez cartel was assumed to be responsible for some 50 percent of illegal drugs that pass through Mexico to the United States. It rose in the past decade to become one of the hemisphere's - if not the world's - most powerful crime organizations. Some US sources estimate the cartel's income reached as high as $200 million a week under former boss Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who mysteriously died in July 1997.

That's 10 billion a year, isn't it? So no, I wouldn't call Juarez's and Detroit's problems similar. In one place we have a war between large, disciplined businesses/private armies and in the other place we have an endemic background noise of random violence. The closer a conflict is to a classic war where soldiers follow orders from undisputed leaders who have clear goals, the more likely it is to be temporary.

Anonymous said...

Obviously the low crime rate in North Dakota is due to the cold weather. It's diffucult to fire a gun while wearing mittens.

Truth said...

"In one place we have a war between large, disciplined businesses/private armies and in the other place we have an endemic background noise of random violence."

Is an NPR account of the Juarez violence. Here are a few excerpts:

"They were like, 'I already shot you once. I'm going to kill you right here if you don't give me the keys to your truck,' " says Julio, who runs a small one-hour photo studio in a row of shops on the south side of Juarez. He's been robbed at gunpoint twice in the past three months, and he doesn't want to give his full name because he says he's terrified.

"The criminals got into the schools and robbed all the teachers," he says. "Told the teachers that they were going to come back for the Christmas bonuses of the teachers. If they don't do it, they're going to take hostages of the children and kill the children and kill them. So these teachers didn't come back to school. Their schools are closed."

I guess Pablo Escobar is shaking teachers down for $8 a week?

Anonymous said...

Truth, I've just read that NPR article.

The number of murders in Juarez has jumped from 300 in 2007 to roughly 1,500 this year.

That supports one of my points - this is probably a temporary flare-up. Although 300 in a city of 1.5 million (20 murders per 100,000 living per year) is also pretty high. El Paso's rate was 3, Detroit's was 46 in 2007.

Two of the nation's most powerful criminal groups, the Juarez and the Sinaloa cartels, are fighting for control of Juarez. Both groups move billions of dollars worth of drugs into the U.S. each year, and their hit men carry high-powered assault rifles, machine guns and even grenades.

This supports my point about the relatively high level of organization in much of this. Not in all of it - the stuff you quoted in your comment really does belong to the category of random violence.

Truth said...

That's what a lot of 'race realists' don't understand. It always Startswith organized crime, then the police crack down, the wars escalate then you have thousands of young, violent guys without fathers who can't afford to be cocaine kingpins, so they carjack and shake down teachers.

Here's an excerpt from a
page on Detroit crime:

"Detroit officials noted that about 65 to 70 percent of homicides in the city were confined to a narcotics catalyst.[7]"

There were 394 murders in the city in 2007, that makes about 130 that had no connection to narcotics. This is compared to 300 in Juarez a city where a factory jobs pays about 40 cents an hour and most people cannot afford guns. Also, in Juarez, the numbers are of "official" murders. That means murders that have been investigated, I would assume, and murders in which bodies have shown up. There is of course, a highly corrupt and completely overburdened police force, and neighborhoods in which no journalist would dare to go. In short, Juarez now is the opposite of what you claim it to be: Almost complete anarchy.