From Washington to West Virginia, more than 3.3 million Americans protect our neighborhoods, our schools, our airports and an array of other places where we go about our daily lives.

In the federal government’s lingo, these folks are collectively known as protective service workers. (Members of the military aren’t included.) They are police officers who patrol our streets, firefighters who respond to emergencies and security guards who keep watch at workplaces. Whatever uniform they put on and whatever duties they carry out, their primary goal is to protect us. And in doing so, they regularly exhibit heroism and bravery.

Blanket of Protection

U.S.-Mexico border

In El Paso, TX, traffic flows in both directions over the U.S.-Mexico border.
Photo: Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Take, for example, Salvador Vargas, an officer with the police department in El Paso, TX, which is located in the Rio Grande Valley along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In 2015, Vargas, a K-9 handler who works in the police department’s narcotics unit, was credited with seizing $250,000 in suspected proceeds from drug trafficking and with taking nearly $7 million worth of cocaine, meth and other illegal drugs off the streets. In honor of those achievements, Vargas was named Texas Narcotics Officer of the Year.

Vargas is one of more than 14,500 civilians in the El Paso metro area who worked in protective service jobs in 2015, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. With the El Paso area counting nearly 840,000 residents in 2015, the region had 17.3 protective service workers per 1,000 residents last year — the highest rate among the country’s 100 biggest metro areas. As a result, El Paso leads LawnStarter’s ranking of the 12 Most Protected Metros in the U.S.

Does Protection Equal Safety?

Being included in this ranking doesn’t necessarily mean these 12 metro areas are the safest in the country, though.

In fact, NeighborhoodScout, which bills itself as a neighborhood search engine, says the crime rate in El Paso is “considerably higher” than the national average for all U.S. communities. But at 26 crimes per 1,000 residents, it’s not among the communities with the “very highest” crime rates, NeighborhoodScout says.

crime scene

El Paso has 26 crimes per 1,000 residents, according to NeighborhoodScout.
Photo: Flickr/Alan Cleaver

However, compared with U.S. communities that are similar in size, El Paso boasts one of the lowest crime rates, according to NeighborhoodScout. “This means El Paso is one of the safest places in America in which to live for its size, a very important finding,” the website says.

Although it’s noteworthy that El Paso has a high percentage of protective services workers, “it does not guarantee that residents will always be safer,” says Sage Singleton, a safety specialist at SafeWise, an online resource for home safety and security advice.

“Residents should always keep safety in mind and practice safe habits in the community and at home, regardless of how many protective service workers are employed there. Community safety is a collective effort,” Singleton says.

Pros and Cons

El Paso police

The El Paso Police Department has been at the forefront of community policing.
Photo: LEAPS El Paso

Melissa Hamilton, a visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston Law Center in Texas, says that if protective service workers are visible in a community, they might help deter crime. Also, these workers could foster “a stronger and healthier community” if they offer community services beyond public safety, says Hamilton, who’s a former police officer.

On the flip side, Hamilton says, a relatively large presence of protective service workers could mean a community “has a disproportionately high rate of crime and safety issues” that spawned the need for stepped-up public safety.

“The El Paso Police Department has been at the forefront of community policing and has a pretty good relationship with the law-abiding community,” Hamilton says. “Still, there are a lot of drug problems in the area for obvious reasons, and they continue to have gang activity.”

Hamilton adds that since the category of protective service workers includes U.S. Border Patrol agents, hundreds of whom work in the El Paso area protecting the U.S.-Mexico border, the perception of community safety could be skewed. Why? Because a number of residents of the El Paso area have relatives in Central America, which accounts for many of the undocumented immigrants coming across the border, she explains. Therefore, many of those residents likely wouldn’t be “overly positive” about Border Patrol agents who are cutting off U.S. access for their immigrant relatives, Hamilton says.

Most Protected Metros

Whichever way you look at it, our ranking might offer some sense of security — at home and elsewhere — to the residents of El Paso and the 11 other regions that made our list. We based the ranking on 2015 population and employment data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

1. El Paso, TX

Fort Bliss firefighter

Photo: Wendy Brown/Fort Bliss Bugle

Metro population in 2015: 838,019
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 14,505
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 17.31

2. Honolulu, HI

Honolulu police

Photo: Facebook/Honolulu Police Department

Metro population in 2015: 998,714
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 14,989
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 15.01

3. Buffalo, NY

Metro population in 2015: 1,135,230
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 16,939
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 14.92

4. Washington, DC

D.C. Police

Photo: Metropolitan Police Department

Metro population in 2015: 6,098,283
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 90,918
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 14.91

5. Las Vegas, NV

Metro population in 2015: 2,114,801
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 29,617
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 14.00

6. Tucson, AZ

Tucson Fire Department

Photo: City of Tucson

Metro population in 2015: 1,010,025
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 14,085
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 13.95

7. Baltimore, MD

Baltimore police

Photo: Western Journalism

Metro population in 2015: 2,797,407
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 38,917
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 13.91

8. Colorado Springs, CO

Metro population in 2015: 697,856
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 9,299
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 13.33

9. Albuquerque, NM

Metro population in 2015: 906,209
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 11,974
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 13.21

10. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL

Fort Lauderdale parking enforcement

Photo: Broward College

Metro population in 2015: 6,012,331
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 77,672
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 12.92

11. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA

Norfolk Fire Department

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy

Metro population in 2015: 1,723,351
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 22,208
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 12.89

12. Columbia, SC

Columbia fire department

Photo: Columbia Fire Department

Metro population in 2015: 810,574
Number of protective service workers in the civilian workforce in 2015: 10,382
Number of protective service workers per 1,000 residents in 2015: 12.81

Among the jobs that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes in the category of protective service are police officers, police detectives, criminal investigators, sheriff’s deputies, Border Patrol agents, state troopers, firefighters, fire inspectors, fire investigators, forest fire inspectors, forest fire prevention specialists, bailiffs, correctional officers, jailers, fish and game wardens, parking enforcement workers, transit and railroad police officers, animal control workers, private detectives and investigators, gaming surveillance officers, gaming investigators, security guards, crossing guards, lifeguards and transportation security screeners.

Top photo: Flickr/Scott L

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