Last night, NBC Nightly News continued its series “Mexico: The War Next Door.” In its latest segment, NBC highlighted the much discussed and debated issue of cross-border violence and drug trafficking in Texas.

Flying overhead in helicopters with officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety Air Patrol, the film crew showed images of high-speed chases on U.S. highways and men hiking through Texas backlands with 80-pound bales of marijuana on their backs. The story reports:

Federal officers here, who spend every day in the sky, say drug trafficking in this area has increased dramatically in just the last couple of years, and they see no end in sight.

Reports like these, coupled with high-profile cases of violence along the border (such as murders David Hartley on the Rio Grande’s Falcon Lake and of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz last year), have created the impression that the southwest border has become overrun with violence spilling over from Mexico. Yet the facts seemingly tell a different story.

According to FBI crime data assembled by USA Today, crime along the southwest border has actually been falling for years. Likewise, statistically, U.S. cities along the border actually appear to be safer than other cities within the same state. When Heritage experts Jim Carafano and Ray Walser met with the Border Patrol in the Laredo sector of the U.S.–Mexico border in October, agents there could not specify any acts of spillover violence in the past six months.

Emphasizing this fact, in April, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that those who claim that the U.S.–Mexico border is “overrun or out of control” are simply trying to score political points.

Instead, part of what may be happening is that enhanced enforcement efforts to secure the border on the ground and in the air mean we are seeing more incursions and capturing more of it on film. Likewise, the reported uptick in aggressive of behavior by outlaws also reflects upon our national inability to make headway against chronic drug consumption and abuse habits that provides the profits they seek.

Of course, none of this is to say that more should not be done to enhance U.S.–Mexico border security. For one thing, continuing a parochial U.S. border strategy focused on a single international boundary line alone is not enough. Instead, the U.S. should work actively on both sides of the border, reinforcing law enforcement and immigration-control capacity on our side while cooperating with Mexico to build security on their side of the border.

In the long run, the key metric for success will not be the number of Border Patrol agents or miles of fencing along the border but rather our ability to restore a sense of security by strengthening the institutions of law enforcement, intelligence, and justice and building a stronger civil society and more resilient communities.

Border security issues deserve more than journalistic sensationalism or political axe-grinding.