Hispanic Crime Rates

A friend sends along this graph of incarceration rates for 18-29 year old males for states with sizable mestizo Hispanic populations, pointing out similar incarceration rates for young males for whites and Hispanics. (In Northeastern states where most Hispanics are mulattoes, Hispanics have higher age-adjusted incarceration rates than whites. Unfortunately, I didn't see a link to a data source in the email.)

He then argues that Hispanic mestizo crime rates are no higher than 15% greater than whites of the same ages.

Is that true?

In many cases, government agencies fail to break out Hispanics as distinct from whites in crime rates. This is a notorious weakness in the national FBI crime rate statistics.

Apparently, the Los Angeles Police Department does, however. A June 10, 2006 LA Times article about a briefing by LAPD chief William Bratton reported:

The numbers reveal a wide racial divide regarding violent crime.

Blacks make up about 11% of the city's population but account for 38% of all homicide victims and 29% of suspects, according to the statistics. By contrast, whites make up 30% of the population but account for just 6% of homicide victims and 2% of suspects. Latinos make up 47% of the population and constitute 50% of homicide victims and 66% of suspects.

Homicide is hardly the only crime, but it's a good one to refer to because police departments are more uniformly more serious about recording homicides than about other crimes.

Based on that LA Times report, here's a graph of per capita homicide suspicion rates in Los Angeles in the middle of this decade:

Can we make sense of these two graphs that seem to paint very different pictures?

I think so, although the lack of official Hispanic crime data remains a problem.

  • I'm not sure what time period the LA Times was referring to, but the denominator in the LAPD suspicion ratio -- the number of murders where whites were suspects -- might be a quite small number, so the huge ratios could be unstable.
  • I wouldn't worry about ethnic bias on the part of whom the LAPD suspected -- this was during the consent decree aftermath of the bogus Ramparts scandal during which the LAPD was under strict federal supervision.
  • Los Angeles has about 1.2 million non-Hispanic whites, which is a big sample size. Due to the city's extremely high cost of living in white neighborhoods, however, most LA whites range in class from blue collar to the idle rich. There are some pockets of underclass meth lab whites left in LA, such as in Sunland, but most of them got out of town a long time ago. That may help explain Los Angeles's extremely low white homicide rate. By this point, perhaps more fictional white Angelenos commit murders each week on network crime shows than each year in real life.
  • It could also be that Los Angeles has an unusually large and violent Hispanic gang scene not found in other parts of the country. If so, that strikes me as cold comfort, though, because LA trends tend to eventually show up elsewhere. In 1988, LA's black crack-dealing gangs, such as the Bloods and Crips, were fairly atypical for the whole country. By 1993, there were imitation Bloods and Crips all across the country. In general, over the last 50 years, saying, "Oh, that's just LA, that will never happen here," has been poor prognostication. It seems especially doubtful to dismiss LA's experience with American-born Hispanics, which LA has long had a lot more of than the rest of the country.
  • It also could be that LA's Hispanics are relatively less criminal than homicidal. For example, my Neighborhood Watch circulates emails from an LAPD officer dedicated to our neighborhood. Most of the professional burglars who have been active in our neighborhood in recent years have been black.
  • Immigrant felons are typically deported after serving their terms. One strike and you are out. Deportation reduces recidivism, and the threat of deportation no doubt serves as a deterrent.
  • Incarceration rates aren't exactly the same as crime rates for Latinos. Immigrants are a lot likelier to hop in the white Bronco and make a run for the border, on the other side of which are waiting friends and relatives, than are American-born homeboys, especially non-Hispanic blacks and whites. You can see this at the LAPD Most Wanted website. A very large fraction of the LAPD's Most Wanted have foreign first names, suggesting they were foreign born. This doesn't necessarily mean that foreign-born people commit most of the crimes in LA, but it does mean that foreign-born ones are more likely to elude arrest for years, and thus more likely to wind up for years on the Most Wanted website, because they skedaddle home. For example, in the $2 million tax fraud that I served on the jury for in 2006, the brains of the operation had vamoosed back home to Iran, leaving his dim bulb brother-in-law behind to take the rap.
  • Age-adjusting, while informative, also tends to adjust away important information. Judging from total fertility rates for immigrant and American-born generations, a Latina immigrant in California is likely to have over three times as many grandchildren as an American-born white woman in California. Hence, the Latino population will, on average, be younger, and younger people commit more crimes: the follies and frolics of youth and all that.

On the other hand, that doesn't mean the crimes don't get committed. They do.

From the point of view of, for instance, the woman I know who was stabbed in the neck and face seven times three years ago by a 19-year-old Latino gang-banger, the fact that she lives in a city with a large number of 19-year-old Latinos increases her chance of getting stabbed. You can't age-adjust away the risk.

Thus, American Renaissance's 2005 Color of Crime study of incarceration rates found:

"In total, blacks had the highest incarceration rate at 7.2 times the [nonHispanic] white rate, followed by Hispanics, at 2.9 times the white rate. [American] Indians and Pacific Islanders were imprisoned at about twice the white rate, and Asians at only 22 percent of the white rate."

Consider, for example, how often the Mainstream Media tells us that illegal immigration from Latin America is good for American citizens because it is lowering the average age and thus injecting vibrancy into the economy. Perhaps, but if the upside of Hispanic youthfulness is constantly touted, it would seem reasonable to also point out its downside in terms of increased crime.

Another adjustment that's going on in the top graph is adjusting away the relatively high ratio of young adult male to female Latinos in the U.S. The rigors of illegal immigration mean there are more male than female illegal immigrants in the country. And males commit more crimes, so let's adjust the sex difference away by comparing Latino males to white males. After all, it's not fair that Latinos commit more crimes per capita because they have a high male to female ratio.

But that's cold comfort to the crime victims.

- Crucially, Latinos who immigrated at age 18 and up probably have quite low violent crime rates (other than drunken vehicular manslaughter and drunken fights), while American-born Latinos seem to have fairly high crime rates. So, lumping immigrant and American-born Hispanics together as the first graph does blurs the long run implications of immigration.

The American-born to immigrant incarceration ratios are often said to five, even eight times higher.

Here's a chart recently made by Jason Richwine using Census Bureau data from about a decade ago:

The white bars are American-born whites, the green bars are Hispanic immigrants, and the orange bars are American-born Hispanics. The key grouping is the second: "Young Men Institutionalized." ("Institutionalized" more or less means "imprisoned" when it comes to young men.) The Hispanic immigrant institutionalization rate is only about half that of the white native rate, but the white native rate is only about 40% of the institutionalization rate of the Hispanic native.

Still, I'm sure there is a sizable difference. In general, guys who immigrated as adults in order to get work aren't criminal types. The criminally inclined tend to be homeboys who never fully outgrow their juvenile gang phase and juvenile gang friends.

The problem, of course, is that in a situation in which the incarceration rate for immigrant Latinos is only 1/8th that of American-born Latinos, the immigrants then have sons.

Similarly, Linda Chavez wrote in 2006:

Before bashing immigrants, at least try to get the facts straight
By Linda Chavez

University of California professor Ruben Rumbaut, an expert on immigration and crime, looked at 2000 Census data on the institutionalized population in the United States, most of whom are in prisons, and came up with these astonishing facts. Immigrants are far less likely to be in jail or prison than other U.S. residents.

Of the U.S. population of 45.2 million men ages 18 to 39 (those most likely to be in the criminal population), 3 percent were incarcerated, or about 1.3 million at the time of the 2000 Census. But of these, blacks, whites and U.S.-born Hispanics had incarceration rates that dwarfed those of immigrants. Only .7 percent of Mexican-born males were in prison or jail, compared with 3.51 percent of all U.S.-born males, which includes 1.71 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 11.6 percent of blacks and 5.9 percent of Mexican Americans.

I suspect this ratio (5.9% to 0.7%) is exaggerated due to immigrants lying to avoid deportation. Steve Camarota wrote a good report recently on how you really can't trust the various numbers tossed around.

That would suggest that Richwine's ratio in the graph above of a roughly 2.5X higher institutionalization rate for American-born Hispanic young men compared to American-born white young men is somewhat exaggerated by incarcerated immigrant Hispanics claiming to be American-born to avoid deportation.

So, I would guess there is somewhere around, or a little lower than, a 2X ratio in age-adjusted crime rates between American-born Hispanics and American-born whites. That's a very rough guess because of the poor quality of the government data on Hispanic crime rates, and the lack of academic enthusiasm for tackling this subject. But, the comparison of American-born Hispanics to American-born whites seems to me to be the relevant one for assessing the long-term import of immigration. The national average ratio is likely not as extreme as the Los Angeles one, but it's very likely higher than a naive glance at the first graph above would suggest.

So, this would suggest that the null hypothesis that the per capita age-adjusted crime rates of the two groups of American-born young men are the same is unlikely.

Trying to find some good news in all this, here's a novel idea. Perhaps the rise of organized crime to its current apocalyptic heights in Mexico means that recent Mexican immigrants were better selected for resistance to law-breaking than previous ones. After all, a poor young man born in Mexico in the early 1980s had to lucrative options 21 years later: go to America and work construction during the Housing Bubble or go to work for a drug cartel in Mexico. So, maybe we got the good ones out of that generation. And maybe they'll transmit their law-abidingness to their sons.

It could happen.