News

Valley bucks state trends on attitudes toward death penalty, crime, UTPA survey shows
Contact: Arnoldo Mata 381-3639
Posted: 07/05/2000
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The Rio Grande Valley echoes the state in its attitude towards crime and punishment but is less supportive of the death penalty, according to a recent survey by The University of Texas-Pan American.

"Overall, the people in the Valley tend to rate their quality of life highly even with their perception of crime and police protection," said Dr. Robert Wrinkle, a political science professor and director for the Center for Survey Research, which conducted the survey.

The "Pulse of the Valley: Crime 2000" gauges Valley residents' opinions about crime and police protection. Dr. Daniel K. Dearth, associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, assisted in the report.

"We were somewhat surprised that the Valley was so distinctly different from the rest of the state in the support of the death penalty," said Wrinkle. "While the Valley tracks with the state on most issues, it was different on that one."

On capital punishment, Valley residents were asked about their support for the death penalty for six specific crimes: murder, rape, treason, armed robbery, arson and kidnapping. Only for murder did a majority of respondents, 58 percent, support the death penalty compared to 80 percent statewide.

While a majority of both Mexican-Americans and Anglos in the Valley favored the death penalty for murder, 72 percent of Anglos supported it compared to 55 percent of Mexican-Americans.

"The other interesting finding is that the Valley, while not overall fearful, was more fearful than the rest of the state," Wrinkle said, pointing out 47 percent of Valley residents believe their neighborhood is "somewhat dangerous," compared to 31 percent statewide.

Other findings in the report are:

... Valley residents continue to rate their quality of life high, with an average rating of 75.3 on a scale between one to 100;

... 68 percent believe courts are too easy in dealing with convicted criminals;

... 51.2 percent believe Hispanics are treated more harshly than Anglos in the criminal justice system;

... 88.6 percent did not believe they had been treated unfairly by police because of their ethnicity; and

... 80 percent believe police do not use excessive force.

The study was based on telephone interviews with 621 residents from Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties in March. The survey has a margin of error of plus-or-minus four percent.

"Pulse of the Valley" reports offer a snapshot of the attitudes and concerns at one point in time on a variety of issues, Wrinkle said. The Center has previously published reports on general satisfaction rates of Valley residents and perceptions of the education system.

The next survey, scheduled for release in late August or early September, will be on political participation.

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