Across the Divide. The disparities between El Paso and its Mexican sister city, Juárez, dramatize the importance of the rule of law. By Alfredo Corchado
Last year, 17 people were murdered in the Texas border city of El Paso—a strikingly low number for a city of 830,000. But the number was in keeping with a trend: from 2008 to 2012, El Paso was deemed the safest city in the United States for its size. The reality might seem surprising, given that the city is relatively poor, with a median household income of $40,800 (national average: $53,500) and a poverty rate of 23.4 percent (natioal average: 15.6 percent), and with a high population of immigrants. Only 21 percent of the community has a college degree, compared with 29 percent nationwide.
El Paso’s safety is doubtless a reflection of the large presence of law enforcement in the city. Not only do you have local police and sheriff’s deputies on the crime beat; you’ve also got federal agents from Homeland Security, including border patrol officers, in addition to FBI, DEA, and even CIA agents, working in a city that is home to Fort Bliss military base and the El Paso Intelligence Center. Worries about border security will likely expand this presence. Texas’s latest budget includes the hiring of 250 extra Texas National Guard members, the creation of a transnational intelligence center, and the purchase of a $7.5 million aircraft and other high-tech security tools—some of which surely will be deployed in El Paso.
The city didn’t always enjoy such a safe reputation. In the early 1990s, El Paso struggled with much higher crime rates, and its northeast neighborhood was known as the Devil’s Triangle, for its high levels of drug dealing, prostitution, and gang violence. An embrace of proactive, community-oriented policing helped turn things around. The police decentralized their structure and set up regional commands that worked closely with residents to address crime. El Paso cops now call the formerly infamous area the Angel’s Triangle.