Rio Grande Valley residents have heard it all before. Whether it’s headlines from cable news outlets or rhetoric from the state’s governor or ambitious political candidates, the border is often characterized as a chaotic, dangerous region that cartels violently exploit for profit.
While it has long been true that illegal immigration and drug smuggling occurs in the Valley, whether this border region really is a lawless area as some in politics and the media portray it to be cannot be determined by hyperbole.
So are border communities dangerous?
Not according to an FBI report that contradicts the notion that the Rio Grande Valley is the “war zone” as other mass media outlets allege it is due to what they call a “border crisis.” And McAllen’s police chief and mayor, as well as Brownsville police agree this isn’t the case.
In fact, McAllen police Chief Victor Rodriguez said his department reported its 13th annual consecutive crime reduction, resulting in the lowest crime rate in McAllen in 37 years, which, according to Rodriguez, is unheard of.
“It’s an incredible statistic and we’re very proud of that,” Rodriguez said.
McAllen participates in the Uniform Crime Reporting and National Incident-Based Reporting System programs, which measures and analyzes crime in as uniform a manner as possible.
The UCR program’s traditional summary reporting system aggregates a monthly tally of the following crimes: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.
Rodriguez said comparisons between border cities and the largest cities in the state are due to the Valley being under a microscope for years because of border issues.
He added that due to all the attention, there’s been a saturation of state police, military and Border Patrol assets, which he says aids in the city police’s mission to keep crime low.
“What I’m trying to suggest is, I’m not discounting that as one reason we’ve seen, let’s say, 13 years in crime reductions when the rest of the world thinks crime is through the roof and that this is a lawless region,” Rodriguez said. “That’s just not the case.”
McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos echoed Rodriguez’s sentiments.
“You know, every time I get an interview with somebody, I make sure that I let them know what’s depicted in the media isn’t necessarily what’s going on over here,” Villalobos said. “And when we talk about, for example the immigration issues, which isn’t a border crisis but a national issue, we’re talking about the asylum seekers that are processed and we assist to process, and we haven’t had any issues.
“I understand for political purposes, different organizations want to do different things, but here in McAllen, we are one of the safest cities, we have some of the friendliest people and we’re very proud of that.”
Brownsville police Commander Robert Martinez concurs.
“We really don’t have much of an issue in Brownsville,” Martinez said when asked about immigration. “As far as the way you try to label it as a war zone, no, that’s not the case here.”
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez was unavailable for comment.
Among Texas’ four largest border cities and five of the state’s largest cities, which include El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville, McAllen was recognized as the city with the least crime in 2021, based on the FBI report.
In the analysis of 2021 Texas UCR crime data, McAllen also ranked the lowest among Texas’ four largest border cities as well as its five largest cities, such as San Antonio and Austin.
McAllen’s total crime was 2,874, which consisted of 259 cases of violent crime and 2,615 cases of property crime.
Rodriguez credits the residents and the city he serves as the reason McAllen was reported as the lowest in crime compared to other large border cities.
“We obviously have a very good community and we get the resources that we need from our city commission and through the budgetary process,” Rodriguez said. “We have a community that is, I think, very engaged in our city … and if they see something, they say something and they report stuff.”
When compared to Texas cities with populations of over 140,000 or more, of which there are a total of 26 cities within that criteria, McAllen’s ranking does drop slightly to the sixth lowest in total crime and 11th lowest in property crime.
McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos said the city ranked lower last year and was happy to learn McAllen did better this year.
“We were ranked seventh safest and now sixth,” Villalobos said. “So, for a border community in the whole country, that’s fantastic.”
Brownsville ranked at 16th lowest in crime according to Martinez, the Brownsville police commander, who mentioned that Brownsville is closer to 190,000 in population compared to McAllen’s 144,973.
“That’s also not including your transient population that goes through the city,” Martinez said. “It could be a lot more.”
Similar to McAllen, Brownsville’s crimes consist mostly of property crimes, which Martinez said there were 3,348 reported last year, and of those 2,817 were theft.
Martinez said they prevent crime by using special programs to help juveniles or troubled youths.
“We have what we call the Second Chance program for our juveniles,” public information officer Martin Sandoval said. “We work together with the school district. If a juvenile gets arrested … for an offense, of course nothing dealing with a severe felony, they get counseling, they get a type of adjudication and they try to help them out.”
According to the NIBRS crime data, McAllen ranks as the eighth lowest in crime with 8,815 reported incidents, which consists of 2,955 crimes against persons, 4,329 crimes against property and 1,531 crimes against society.
It appears to be good news for a region where crime continues to cool down as the rhetoric heats up.
“The department expresses special thanks to the men and women of the McAllen Police Department for their hard work and the successful outcomes reflected in this report and analysis,” Rodriguez, the McAllen chief, said in a statement. “As we go forward, the department will continue its diligence to the public safety service that our community deserves.”