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Our crime rates are damaging our economy

Recently I was invited to make a presentation to a Leadership New Mexico class which was meeting in Roswell. The topic was “The Effect of Violence on the Community.” The much narrowed focus of our group discussion was “The Effect of Violent Crime on Economic Development.” I guess someone figured that as a retired FBI agent and former State Representative, I would be a logical choice to address this topic.

As I did research for the presentation, I found the data confirmed many previously held opinions. However, it also revealed surprising discoveries and produced disturbing concerns.

With the exception of the oil patch in southeastern New Mexico, the consensus of the participants was that the economic situation in New Mexico was not good. Objective data such as population growth in relation with our neighboring states, and poverty rates coupled with subjective rakings by CNBC and Chief Executive Magazine, confirmed this distressing evaluation.

Prison populations
Total Inmates/ Violent Crime/ Murders/ Inmates/ Inmates 100,000 100,000 100,000 Violent Crime
U.S. 1,598,780 492 386 4.7 1.28
Utah 6,879 308 195 1.9 1.58
Colorado 21,978 511 320 2.9 1.61
Texas 172,224 684 408 4.4 1.69
Oklahoma 25,977 752 454 5.5 1.67
Arizona 40,020 780 405 5.5 1.96
New Mexico 6,998 339 567 7.5 .60

Intuitively we recognize that violent crime has an impact on economic activity. However, that which is intuitive still needs to be confirmed empirically. Fortunately, there are serious studies that do this. The Center for American Progress in a report on this issue in 2012 determined “… a reduction in a given year of one homicide in a zip code causes a 1.5 percent increase in housing value …” Two researchers in Italy who were looking specifically at that nation concluded that “criminal activity acts like a tax on the entire economy; it discourages domestic and foreign direct investment, it reduces firms’ competitiveness, and allocates resources creating uncertainty and inefficiency.”

The surprising discovery was the terrible nature of our crime statistics in New Mexico. Based upon 2011 data – the most recent available – the murder rate in the Land of Enchantment is the second-highest in the nation. Our violent-crime rate is higher than any of our neighbors and fourth in the nation. Another disturbing discovery had to do with our low incarceration rate – how many prisoners per 100,000 residents. In spite of our high crime, our incarceration rates were below our neighbors, except for Utah, which is a low crime state.

The last column in the accompanying table shows the ratio of Prison Inmates to Violent Crime. New Mexico is shockingly out of line. We are not putting criminals in jail like we need to.

It was disturbing that in the four years I was a member of the Legislature’s “Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee” I can’t recall hearing this revelation. We did get presentations on prison population changes, which included the distressing fact that “serious violent offenders” are the fastest growing group within the Department of Corrections. However, there was nothing about our crime rate or our incarceration rate, particularly with respect to the nation, our region and our neighbors.

Curing New Mexico economic development doldrums will require a multifaceted approach as there are many factors dragging us down. The governor is correctly addressing taxes and education. Other issues, including regulations and the civil litigation environment, also need sober review.

The bottom line: New Mexico has a serious violent crime problem. We dare not pretend this does not have an effect on our economy or our overall quality of life. We need to do more to ensure that the Legislature and the judiciary are fulfilling their responsibilities in this area. That may make some political leaders uncomfortable, but the situation is too grave for us to do less.