Crimes Against Latinos Decrease

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
TIMES STAFF WRITER

April 8 2002

WASHINGTON — The United States became a safer place for Latinos during the 1990s as the rate of violent crime against them dropped by 56%, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

The drop in nonfatal violent crime against Latinos from 1993 to 2000 tracked national trends for other racial groups in a period that saw a sustained economic expansion and policing strategies that combined tough enforcement with efforts to improve community relations.

“For Latinos, violent crime mirrored what was happening in the rest of the country–it was down significantly,” said Lisa Navarrete, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Washington-based Latino advocacy organization. The decrease for Latinos over the eight-year period was more pronounced than the 50% decline in the victimization rate for whites.

By 2000, Latinos were about as likely to be victims of nonfatal violent crime as whites. Overall, there were 28 victims of violent crime per 1,000 Latinos age 12 or older in 2000, compared with 27 among whites and 34 among blacks. In 1993, the first year covered by the report, there were 63 victims of nonfatal violent crime per 1,000 Latino residents.

Part of the reason for the improvement may lie with an influx of Latinos into police department ranks, said Jose C. Miramontes, president of the National Latino Peace Officers Assn. The growing visibility of Latino officers has changed attitudes in many neighborhoods in which law enforcement was previously viewed as an outside power, he suggested.

“Yes, there are gangs, but people are interacting more with law enforcement,” said Miramontes, who lives in Los Angeles County. “People are not afraid to go and talk to the police now. When I was growing up, it wasn’t like that.” His organization represents 10,000 Latino officers nationwide.

LAPD spokesman Jason Lee said more analysis was needed to see whether local statistics fit with the national pattern. Latinos comprise more than 40% of Los Angeles County residents. “We need to look at our own statistics before we can comment,” Lee said.

One major crime–homicide–is not covered by the household surveys on which the Justice Department report is based, since the surveys rely on firsthand reports from crime victims. And the murder statistics for Latinos are not good.

At 9.1 victims per 100,000 people, the murder rate for Latinos remains about 50% higher than for the nation as a whole. Those numbers are for 1999, the most recent year for which complete data are available, and come from a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report on nonfatal crimes found that Latinos were more likely than whites to be victims of crimes involving firearms, which may help explain why the murder rate is higher. About 15% of Latino victims reported that the offender had used a gun, compared with 7% of white victims and 17% of black victims.

The report includes data on assaults, robberies and sexual assaults. About 6 in 10 violent crimes against Latinos in 2000 were simple assaults. Robbery accounted for 20% of the crimes, followed by aggravated assault (19%) and sexual assault (2%).

The report is based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, an ongoing survey of about 50,000 households across the country. More than 730,000 individuals age 12 and older were interviewed; the statistics regarding Latinos are culled from those respondents who described themselves as Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Mexican, Cuban, Central or South American or other Spanish origin.

For Latinos, violent crime rates fell the most among women, persons age 35 to 49, divorced or separated persons, those in low-income households earning from $15,000 to $24,999 and residents of rural areas, the report says.

Navarrete said the drop in the victimization rate for Latinas may be partly attributable to a national campaign against domestic abuse. “This was done in Spanish as well as English for the first time during the 1990s,” she said. “You can now call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline and talk to somebody in Spanish.”

The Justice Department report is available on the Internet at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs//abstract/hvvc00.pdf.