Saturday, May 23, 2009

El Paso, Cd. Juarez Police Departments Compared

With Cd. Juarez dramatically increasing its spending on police forces this year in the midst of a public security crisis, it might be useful to compare Juarez with its sister city, El Paso, in matters of public security.

Population: The population of Juarez is estimated at anywhere from 1.5 million to about 1.7 million. For the sake of this comparison, let us choose the more conservative figure of 1.5 million. El Paso county (which is larger than the city, just as the municipality of Juarez is larger than the city of Juarez) has a population of just over 742,000, almost exactly one half the population of Juarez.

Size of police force: Until earlier this year, when the Mexican army stepped into the role of municipal law enforcer, Cd. Juarez had a police force of about 1500 active officers. The city intends to double that to a force of 3000 by the end of the year.

El Paso has a city police force of about 1100 officers, and the county has 628 professional law enforcement officers, for a total coverage of 1728 officers. In other words, until earlier this year, El Paso, with half the population, had more police than Juarez. El Paso, it should be noted, has one of the lowest crime rates for any city in the U.S. in that population range. Juarez has one of the highest crime rates in Mexico, and, given the presence of large-scale drug trafficking, is the site of a good deal of violence related to these activities.

Assuming Cd. Juarez is able to train 3000 police officers by the end of the year, at this time next year the city should be in the ball park with El Paso in personnel size on a per capita basis. At present El Paso has one officer for every 429 persons living there. Juarez will have one officer for every 500 persons living there, not a dramatic difference. This ratio is probably the best single, overall indicator to use in comparing police forces in the two cities. Issues of quality of training, technology, public perception, and the like are valid, but difficult to compare across the cultural divide without extensive research.

Budgets: The El Paso city police budget is $114,823,289 for FY 2009, slightly down from 2008. The El Paso county budget for public security for 2009 is $101,103,671, for a combined total of $215,926,960. If we use the current exchange rate of about 13 pesos to the dollar, the Juarez budget for 2008 ($239 million pesos) was about $18,384,615 in U.S. dollar terms, 11.8 times smaller than the combined city-county budget for public security in El Paso.

This comparison is not too revealing, since it does not take into account different standards of living and in the purchasing power of money in the two cities. Wage rates are about 7-8 times more in El Paso than in Juarez, so if we multiply the U.S. dollar-converted budget for Juarez by 8 times, this would yield a budget, in purchasing power, of slightly more than $147 million dollars per year. Translated into per capita terms, this would mean El Paso spends $291 in local law enforcement for each person living in El Paso, while Juarez spends the equivalent of about $98 in law enforcement expenses for each person living in Juarez. If Juarez doubles its local law enforcement budget as planned in the next few months, and if our adjustment is reasonably accurate, it will be spending the equivalent in purchasing power of almost $200 in law enforcment for each person living in Juarez, still shy of the $291 per capita figure for El Paso.

This methodology is not perfect The purchasing power adjustment I made at 8 is based entirely on maquila-level wage rates, which does not tell the whole story. Professional salary differences are not quite as pronounced. Changing it to 7, for example, would be reasonable, and would lower the per capita figure from $98 to $86. But it provides a ballpark point of comparison. Another problem, as noted above, is that the methodology does not take into account differences in the training and experience levels of the two police forces, nor does it take into account public confidence in the ability of police forces to actually provide security, or other contextual differences.

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