Tuesday, March 5, 2013



Data Are Limited and Concerns Vary about Spillover Crime along the
Southwest Border
GAO-13-175, Feb 26, 2013

HighlightsView Report (PDF, 66 pages)
Additional Materials:
Highlights Page (PDF, 1 page)


Cary B. Russell
(202) 512-5431

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
What GAO Found
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting
(UCR) Program, the government's centralized repository for crime
data, provides the only available standardized way to track crime
levels in border counties over time. However, UCR data lack
information on whether reported offenses are attributable to
spillover crime, and have other limitations, such as underreporting
to police. Also, UCR data cannot be used to identify links with
crimes often associated with spillover from Mexico, such as cartel-
related drug trafficking. Cognizant of these limitations, GAO's
analysis of data for southwest border counties with sufficiently
complete data show that, generally, both violent and property crimes
were lower in 2011 than in 2004. For example, the violent crime rate
in three states' border counties was lower by at least 26 percent in
2011 than in 2004 and in one other state lower by 8 percent in 2011
than in 2005.
Law enforcement agencies have few efforts to track spillover crime.
No common federal government definition of such crime exists, and
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ)
components, including those with a definition, either do not collect
data to track spillover crime, or do not maintain such data that can
be readily retrieved and analyzed. However, several components
collect violent incident data that could serve as indirect indicators
of spillover crime. For example, GAO analysis of U.S. Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) data show that, generally, assaults on agents
between southwest border ports of entry were about 25 percent lower
in 2012 than in 2006. State and local law enforcement agencies,
except for one state agency, do not track what might be considered to
be spillover crime because they lack a common definition and do not
systematically collect these crime data in a way that can be used to
analyze trends. Officials from 22 of 37 state and local agencies told
GAO that they have limited resources to collect additional data.
Since April 2012, DHS and the Texas Department of Public Safety have
coled an effort to propose definitions and metrics for border-related
crime by March 2013.
Law enforcement agencies have varying concerns regarding the extent
to which violent crime from Mexico spills into southwest border
communities. While DHS and DOJ threat assessments indicate that
violent infighting between drug cartels has remained largely in
Mexico, DHS assessments also show that aggressive tactics used by
traffickers to evade capture demonstrate an increasing threat to U.S.
law enforcement. Also, officials in 31 of the 37 state and local
agencies stated that they have not observed violent crime from Mexico
regularly spilling into their counties; nonetheless, officials in 33
of the 37 agencies were at least somewhat concerned, for example, for
the safety of their personnel or residents.
Law enforcement agencies have undertaken initiatives to target border-
related crime, including one effort to address violent crime spilling
over from Mexico. For example, in October 2008, DHS developed a
contingency plan for the possibility that a significant southwest
border violence escalation may exceed DHS assets' ability to respond.
In addition, officials from all state and local law enforcement
agencies that GAO spoke with said their agencies had undertaken some
efforts, either individually or in partnership with others, to combat
criminal activities often associated with spillover crime, such as
drug and human smuggling.
Why GAO Did This Study
Drug-related homicides have dramatically increased in recent years in
Mexico along the nearly 2,000-mile border it shares with the United
States. U.S. federal, state, and local officials have stated that the
prospect of crime, including violence, spilling over from Mexico into
the southwestern United States is a concern. GAO was asked to review
crime rates and assess information on spillover crime along the
border. Specifically, this report addresses: (1) What information do
reported crime rates in southwest border communities provide on
spillover crime and what do they show? (2) What efforts, if any, have
federal, state, and select local law enforcement agencies made to
track spillover crime along the southwest border? (3) What concerns,
if any, do these agencies have about spillover crime? (4) What steps,
if any, have these agencies taken to address spillover crime?
GAO analyzed crime data from all of the 24 southwest border counties
from 2004 through 2011 and federal documentation, such as threat
assessments and DHS's plans for addressing violence along the
southwest border. GAO interviewed officials from DHS and DOJ and
their components. GAO also interviewed officials from 37 state and
local law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and
tracking crime in the border counties in the four southwest border
states (Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas). While the
results of the interviews are not generalizable, they provided
insights. GAO is not making any recommendations. DHS provided
comments, which highlighted border-related crime initiatives
recognized by GAO.

For more information, contact Cary B. Russell at (202) 512-5431 or

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