Arizona on the loose.

By now everyone has heard the news that the political establishment and Governor Jan Brewer, in all of their great wisdom, has passed sweeping legislation requiring police officers to check the immigration status as part of routine law enforcement. Of course, anyone with a brain knows the obvious implications of the law, which will serve to marginalize an already marginalized population. The reasons for this law that are being touted in the press are that the law is necessary to combat “spiralling crime rates” in Arizona. I decided to check this out to see exactly how out of control Arizona crime is.

First, I managed to find a convenient data set of crime rates for Arizona from 1960-2008 ( While this data is statewide, the site also provides county level data, but not in such an easily digestible format. Here’s what I found. Let’s look at the worst of the worst first: Violent crime.

As you can see here, Arizona had a serious peak of violent crime during the Reagan Years, but it has been steadily going down since 1995. How about Murder and Forced Rape (like there can be any other kind of rape?)

It appears here that Murder has been pretty steady since 1960. About 10 or so murders per 100,000 people, but rape incidence has steadily gone down since 1980, with the exception of a few jumps. Maybe there was a spike in unemployment or some other problem, but overall the trend is toward less rapes, which is certainly a good thing. Remember, the Arizona law was, in part, a response to the recent murder of a border rancher, but according to this, murder hasn’t changed much since 1960! That 50 years, folks. One has to believe that at least a few of these murders are ranchers killing Mexicans as they cross the border.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at property crime:

Again, it’s been steadily going down since 1970! That’s approximately the year that I was born. This means that thefts, burglaries, larceny and auto theft have all been decreasing in Arizona for the entirety of my 40 year life span! Granted, this is state wide, there could be hot spots of crime which are getting worse, but I don’t have that data. It’s out there however.

Obtaining a precise number of undocumented residents of Ariozona is nearly impossible thanks to laws such as the one passed recently. How can we count people who are afraid to come out in the daylight? However, there are estimates available for the the entire US for 1995-2005 that I was able to track down. The results are not surprising, the undocumented population in the US, who satisfy an important demand for cheap and dependable low-skilled labor has been skyrocketing. The plot below is for the undocumented worker population in the US and, for kicks, I included the murder rate in Arizona, which, as you can see, is slightly decreasing. Even if one were to argue that it’s constant, it sure isn’t increasing with an increasing undocumented resident population.

In fact, a look at the 10 years worth of data I have, correlated with all of the crime stats for Arizona, have strong NEGATIVE associations, with the exception of forced rape, which is the weakest of them all. So there is a strong relationship of the expanding undocumented Mexican population and crime but it’s completely OPPOSITE what all these bigots in the press are touting. It is worth noting that the expanding population of Arizona and the population of undocumented residents of the US are nearly perfectly correlated, meaning that we might be able to use the national population estimates as a fair proxy for rising population trends in Arizona among undocumented persons.

What’s the take home message here? Either these folks in Arizona are completely batshit fleabaggers with no grip on reality or that the “post racial” climate of the US has taken on a much more insidious form. The politicos in Arizona has used a population of people who don’t possess the right to vote as a political tool to concentrate power by means of created a marginalized and unwelcome group. Hitler figured this out, too. While I don’t think there will be gas chambers in Arizona any time soon, I do believe that some folks on the right down there have created a common enemy, which brings people together and works out great in election years. It is, of course, ironic that people on the right who are so concerned about “socialism” would create and support a law that’s straight out of the KGB’s playbook. Where are these people and their cries for “personal freedom” and “small government”?

While drug gangs may be a problem, my guess is that the majority of America’s undocumented population just want to be left alone and pose little great threat to other people. If in fact, crime is exploding in hot spots, as could very well be the case in one or more of the four border counties of Arizona (will scare up data when I have time), then actions need to be taken to shore up law enforcement in those areas, not sweeping misguided and bigoted legislation for the entire state. If Arizona wants to get tough on immigration, then it should be going after the people who hire undocumented workers and should work to create a guest worker program to satisfy demand for labor and for the Mexican rural poor to be able to support their families. Reform the laws, make it legal and easy and they can create a win/win situation for both business and people seeking work. Blaming the victim and marginalizing state residents is not the way to do it and the justifications presented for such sweeping policy simply aren’t supported by the data.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

9 responses to “Arizona on the loose.”

  1. coastcontact says :

    Your research is very compelling. Your well organized writing skills makes me wonder why you are not majoring in journalism. You ought to send this posting to John McCain, J.D. Hayworth, and the governor of Arizona.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    Thank you for your kind words, sir. McCain, Hayworth and Brewer should have all the data on crime in their state. I’m sure that they are fully aware that their state is actually a safer place than it used to be, but might be choosing to selectively recognize that due to election year blindness!

  3. Will Caston says :

    Yes, Pete, thanks for your succinct insight into the absurd justifications of and the real reasons behind this ludicrous new law.

    On a side note, I think it’s also important to take into account globalization issues which have driven many from México and Central America to leave their own homes and cultures for relatively lucrative situations here in the U.S.

  4. Pete Larson says :

    I think that globalization is vital to the whole equation. Poverty drives people to find work in the US, just as people came from the poor South to seek jobs here in the industrial sector of the Midwest. It’s incredibly sad that people are so desperate as to brave days walking across the desert merely to pick tomatoes or wash dishes here in the US, living for months or years at a time, far seperated from the home and families.

    As long as the US refuses to create a responsible guest worker program, people will rely on unscrupulous go-betweens and risk death to get here. As long as the US refuses to deal with immigration reform, unscrupulous employers on this side of the border will continue to take advantage of desperate immigrants, providing dangerous working and living conditions and unfair wages. In the best case, cheap and dependable labor from South of the Border, satisfies demand for seasonal and manual labor and helps to keep costs for food and services affordable to regular folks in the US. At the worst, the lack of workers rights makes it slavery. I would hope that policy makers would work for the former, but Arizona has proven that it’s not interested.

  5. Pete Larson says :

    Related article, with some important points, namely that half of all undocumented immigrants are female:

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