Tempe police have armed themselves with a list of all foreclosed homes in the city and are making a priority of keeping squatters, party crews and illegal drug labs out of them.
Sgt. Ken Harmon, who heads the Tempe Police Department's Crime Prevention Unit, said he passed out the list about a month ago to the beat cops so they could familiarize themselves with the homes so they will know when something is out of place.
He also wants the officers to make security checks of them as time allows.
The housing market collapse has left Maricopa County with roughly 40,000 foreclosed homes, about 400 of them in Tempe.
"These vacant homes are magnets for mischief," Harmon said.
On Thursday, an officer arrested 35-year-old Kevin Patrick Barry on suspicion of criminal trespassing, said Katie McDevitt, Tempe police spokeswoman.
An officer making a security check of a foreclosed house discovered Barry sleeping in the house in the 1200 block of East Weber Drive, which is located in an enclave east of Scottsdale Road and north of Curry. Barry had crawled through the doggy door, McDevitt said.
According to property records, Wells Fargo Bank bought the house in October for $170,000 after the owner left with almost $250,000 of unpaid debt.
People whose homes are foreclosed often move out in the middle of night, so neighbors often don't know the homes are vacant until squatters move in.
Harmon said transients have a reliable network and once one finds a vacant home, others will follow.
The electricity and water are typically off in these homes, so they become unsanitary and the odors can be overpowering, Harmon said. "Of course they're going to damage the home, they don't have any interest in it," he said.
They also rip copper pipes from the walls to sell for drug money.
People who set up drug labs and party crews - groups of young people who organize parties - also use foreclosed homes.
Harmon said the party crews will identify several foreclosed homes in an area and move from house to house as police arrive to break up the parties.
"What it gets to be is a traveling party, and their goal, of course, is to stay one step ahead of the cops," he said.
When it comes to drug labs, someone can set one up, make a significant amount of illegal drugs and be gone before neighbors become aware.
Tempe hasn't seen a rash of drug labs in vacant homes, and the extra attention to the foreclosed homes should keep it that way. "We don't want to give them the ability to set up in these houses," Harmon said.
Lisa Roach, chairwoman of the 269-home Clark Park Neighborhood Association southwest of downtown Tempe, applauded the effort.
Roach said the neighborhood association works closely with the Crime Prevention Unit and beat cops to let them know what is going on in the neighborhood.
"The Tempe Police Department, everyone from the chief on down, are really concerned about our neighborhoods," Roach said.