Regional approach needed to fight violent crime - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Regional approach needed to fight violent crime

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010 3:30 am | Updated: 11:28 pm, Wed May 25, 2011.

This week another child who was sent to Arizona State University to get an education was buried by his parents.

Zachary Marco’s death on Oct. 17 followed the murder of Kyleigh Sousa on May 26. In addition, J.C. Call, a Mesa Community College student, was murdered Aug. 7 while working on the edge of the ASU campus.

The still unsolved murders of these three innocent college students in Tempe shows indiscriminate violent crime doesn’t just happen in the “hood” and to participants in risky or criminal behaviors.

Often there are links between victims and their killer, which can make solving a murder easier and quicker. But when there aren’t those connections, it taxes a law enforcement agency’s resources and abilities. One police officer who oversees homicide investigations told me they’re increasingly worried about the “who-done-it” murders where solutions don’t come quickly or at all.

All police departments aren’t created equally nor are the officers assigned to investigate murders. Arizona has no requirement that officers assigned to work homicide investigations, or any serious violent crime, have any special training, experience or qualifications to ensure competence in investigating murders, rapes, kidnappings and serious assaults. I’ve seen too many flawed investigations that have allowed killers to escape justice.

Although progress has been made in the last couple of years by East Valley police agencies in sharing information and resources, there are huge holes in the system that can facilitate a person getting away with murder. Historically only about half of the murders committed in Arizona are solved.

With the recent announcement of further diminished services being provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety — the state agency that provides crime lab and investigative support to local law enforcement — one can only wonder if people will have an even easier time getting away with murder? Arizona still has yet to establish a statewide system of tracking and linking violent crimes.

Serious violent crime and unsolved murders in the East Valley are everyone’s problem regardless of where you reside or work. Solving the problem will take a regional approach from the cities, Maricopa County, DPS and even ASU.

ASU has experts available in criminology, geographical crime tracking, sustainability and real-time information sharing and management who could greatly enhance the region’s ability to fight crime. In talking with various members of the university faculty, it’s abundantly clear to me the utilization of non-traditional technologies and methods could vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of policing.

In this day of highly mobile criminals who can travel from one jurisdiction to another in minutes, the time has also come for East Valley law enforcement and government officials to break from tradition and explore a broader and potentially more successful multi-agency approach to solve violent crime.

In metro St. Louis, city, county and state police use the multi-agency Major Case Squad (www.majorcasesquad.org) that brings together “specially trained, extremely motivated and highly experienced” detectives to “aggressively investigate major crimes.” The Major Case Squad solves 80 percent of the violent crimes it investigates.

There’s no replacement for what the Squad calls “a wealth of law enforcement knowledge and experience” when a homicide or violent crime is committed. There are no doubt valuable lessons to be learned from the detectives in St. Louis.

More needs to be done to ensure that no more students, or anyone else, are senselessly murdered and the killers who have so far gotten away with murder are caught quickly, prosecuted and punished severely.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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