Latino Experiences with Crime

Victimization Rates

Latinos are disproportionately victims of crime—particularly violent crime—in California as well as nationwide. This section describes the available data on the rates at which Latinos face crime and violence, as well as hypotheses that might explain the disparity in victimization tested by the research literature.

The first part, on homicide, is more extensive, in part because of the higher standards for government reporting of homicide than other crimes. Homicide statistics are published at the national and state levels, as well as by some counties and cities, and are frequently broken down by victims’ race and age. Researchers have also focused on these data because of their relative completeness: homicides are much less likely to go unreported than other crimes, and homicide cases are closed at higher rates, allowing more productive study of victim-offender relationships.

The second part of this section presents national data on Latinos as the victims of nonfatal crimes.


There is a consistent disparity in homicide for Latinos, who are killed more than whites and less than blacks. According to the California Attorney General’s Office, 761 Latinos were victims of homicide across the state in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. Meanwhile, the number of white victims was 400 and the number of black victims was 488.

However, these raw numbers are misleading because there are large differences in the size of the population for each of these groups. Calculating the rate of victimization per 100,000 people in the affected group takes population size into account and allows for accurate comparisons across groups.

Homicide Victimization Rates in California

Source: California Department of Justice

In 2011, the homicide rate for Latinos was 5.1, which was roughly twice the 2.4 rate for whites (California Department of Justice [pdf]). Meanwhile, the homicide rate for blacks was 21.2. From 2002 to 2011, homicide rates for Latinos and blacks declined while the rate for whites remained relatively unchanged. As a result, the disparities compared to whites for both blacks and Latinos have been declining (see Figure 1).

The disparities are striking for young people, and particularly for young men and boys. In 2011, the homicide victimization rate for Latinos less than 30 years old was 6.1 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.4 for whites. The rate for victims under the age of 18 was 2.2 for Latinos versus 0.9 for whites (California Department of Justice [pdf]; U.S. Census Bureau).

A study of premature death in San Francisco helps to quantify the effect of this disparity. It found that Latino men lost an estimated total of 582.8 years of life in 2003–2004 due to deadly violence, which trailed only HIV and heart disease in years of life lost (Aragón, Lichtensztajn, Katcher, Reiter, & Katz, 2008). Homicide was the only cause of premature death ranked significantly higher for Latino men than for white men.

The consequence of this disparity can also be seen in a survey of Californians, in which 3.0 percent of Latinos stated that one of their immediate family members had been killed in the past five years (Californians for Safety and Justice, David Binder Research, 2013). In contrast, 0.8 percent of white respondents said the same.

Latinos not only face higher homicide rates, but they also are more likely to be killed in certain ways. According to the California Attorney General’s Office:

  • Latino homicide victims in California whose relationship to the perpetrator was known were more likely to have been killed by strangers than were white victims (40.5 percent versus 26.1 percent in 2011). The relationship between Latino victims and their offenders was also far more frequently unknown than for white victims (47.2 percent versus 19.5 percent).
  • Latino homicide victims were more likely than whites to have been killed with a firearm (72.9 percent versus 54.2 percent in 2011).
  • Latinos are the largest group of those killed by law enforcement officers in California each year, with rates higher than those for whites and lower than those for blacks (0.4 per 100,000 versus 0.1 and 1.1, respectively, in 2011).

Furthermore, according to Violence Policy Center (2014) [pdf] analysis, what holds true for California is also the case nationally: Latinos are more likely to be killed by strangers and are at higher risk of being murdered as teens and young adults, with homicide the second most likely cause of death for Latinos 15 to 24. More than two thirds of Latino homicide victims are killed using firearms. In 2010, the homicide rate for Latino victims in the United States was 5.7 per 100,000, compared with 2.5 for whites and 19.5 for blacks (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control).

The homicide rates for Latinos, while relatively consistent for California and the U.S., vary across neighborhoods, cities, and counties, as do the gaps between those for Latinos and other groups. In California in 2011, for example, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco counties each had more than four more homicides of Latinos per 100,000 in the county than of whites (see Figure 2; California Attorney General; U.S. Census Bureau). At the extreme, in Tulare County in the Central Valley, the Latino homicide rate was 16.7. In a minority of counties, the white homicide rate exceeded that for Latinos. These were mostly less populous counties, with one notable exception: in Orange County, the Latino homicide rate was 3.4 while the white rate was 6.9.

Figure 2. Rates of Homicide (per 100,000) for Latino Victims by County, California, 2011

Elevated homicide rates often have been associated with socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and low incomes as well as geographic factors such as residence in central cities. In general such factors are more prevalent among Latinos and blacks than among whites. Researchers have consistently shown that economic and social disadvantage predicts killings of Latinos in U.S. cities (Martinez, Jr., 1996; Lee, Martinez, Jr., & Rosenfeld, 2001; Martinez, Jr., Stowell, & Cancino, 2008; Martinez, Jr., Stowell, & Lee, 2010). Indeed, some research has concluded that equalizing structural characteristics would equalize homicide rates among these groups. For example, one study of homicides nationwide in 1990 found that levels of poverty, education, unemployment, family and residential stability, and urban-ness fully accounted for the gap between Latino and white homicide victimization (Phillips, 2002).

Nonlethal Crime

Research findings about the relative rates at which Latinos and members of other races are the victims of non-deadly crime are sometimes contradictory (Miller, 2012, pp. 155–156). The National Criminal Victimization Survey, which asks people across the United States about their experiences as victims of crime, has generally found that Latinos have higher rates of victimization for “serious violent crime,” which includes sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault, than whites and Asians and Pacific Islanders and lower rates than blacks and American Indians. These differences vary with the type of crime and the year, however.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released special reports on rates of particular types of crime over longer periods of time (usually from the early 1990s through the 2000s), which found that, nationwide:

Burglary Rates

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013b

  • Recent burglary rates are generally higher in Latino-headed households than in white-headed households and lower than in black-headed households (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013b [pdf]; see Table 1). But the rate declined more sharply for Latinos than for whites and blacks from 1994 to 2011—by 67 percent versus 57 percent for whites and 52 percent for blacks. During this period, Latino households fell from being the most likely of the three groups to be burglarized (and second only to American Indian households), to the second most likely, after black households.
  • Nonfatal violence with a firearm was consistently more likely for Latinos than whites from 1994 to 2011, and lower than or comparable to nonfatal firearm violence for blacks (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013d [pdf]). In 2011, the rate was 2.2 per 1,000 people for Latinos, 2.8 for blacks, and 1.4 for whites. This finding is supported by a survey of 18 to 29 year olds, in which 14.5% of Latinos and 22.5% of blacks said that they or someone they know experienced gun violence in the previous year, compared with 7.4% of whites (Rogowski, 2013 [pdf]).
  • Latina, black, and white women were sexual assaulted at similar rates in the late 1990s, and Latinas were sexually assaulted less than black women in the late 2000s (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013c [pdf]; see Table 2). (Although the rate for Latinas is lower than for both other groups in 1999 to 2010, the difference between white women and Latinas is statistically negligible.) As in all surveys, these numbers tell us the rates at which people respond that they have experienced sexual assault—any underreporting obscures the true extent of the crime.

    Sexual Assault Against Women

    Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013c

  • Intimate partner violence against Latinas was not consistently higher or lower than for white women from 1994 to 2010 but declined more than for white and black women—by 78 percent versus around 61 percent for whites and blacks (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2012a [pdf]).

There is also evidence that Latinos are more likely to be repeatedly victimized than the population at large. Among people who had experienced crime in California in the past five years, 43 percent of Latinos said they had been the victims of three or more crimes, compared with 36 percent of crime victims overall (Californians for Safety and Justice, 2013).


Full citations for the references in this section are available herePhoto courtesy of Derek Bridges.

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