The Washington Post says an often-cited statistic that seven major Mexican drug cartels are operating in 1,000 U.S. cities is likely a vast exaggeration. The number came from a 2011 report by a now-defunct division of the Justice Department, the National Drug Intelligence Center. Experts say the number, widely reported by news organizations across the country, is inflated because it relied heavily on self-reporting by law enforcement agencies, not on documented criminal cases.
The Post interviewed local police officials in more than a dozen cities who said they were surprised to learn that the federal government had documented cartel-related activity in their communities. Privately, Drug Enforcement Administration and Justice Department officials said they have no confidence in the accuracy of the list of 1,000 cities, which the DEA would not release. While there is no disputing that Mexican cartels are operating in large U.S. cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, analysts who study drug trafficking scoffed at the contention that the violent cartels were in so many smaller cities.