“These gangs are very, very dangerous. They are organized like a crime syndicate,” said Tempe City Mana ger Charlie Meyer (reported in the Arizona Republic, March 12).
Charlie Meyer was talking about the notorious Crips and Bloods street gangs that were in involved in the March 2 shootout at a Tempe nightclub that left sixteen people wounded.
While not a south of the border cartel shootout, sixteen wounded is the most victims I can remember in a single Arizona shooting.
Federal authorities have documented the links between Arizona street gangs, the Mexican Mafia prison gang, and Sinloa Drug Cartel. All have been active in Tempe and Arizona.
What happened in Tempe should be a wake up call that gangs are here and they’re a serious threat.
While Mr. Meyer uses the words “they’re organized like a crime syndicate” to describe the gangs that wreaked havoc in Tempe, by definition gangs are organized crime. The face of organized crime has changed. No longer is it a Tony Soprano-like character and his mob buddies hanging out at the Bada Bing Strip Club in Jersey.
The FBI report “It’s not just the Mafia anymore” defined organized crime as “any group having some manner of a formalized structure and whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities. Such groups maintain their position through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally have a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.”
Arizona’s organized crime problem that goes well beyond smugglers.
The Center for Public Integrity just gave Arizona a D+ in a report that ranks the states on their susceptibility to corruption.
The new face of organized crime is allover Arizona and growing.
A review of the 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment from the National Drug Intelligence Center and the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment by the FBI paints a picture of blossoming organized crime in Arizona. The link between drugs and gangs is right there in black and white. Arizona is a major destination for organized criminal activities from Mexico and around the United States.
One of the cardinal rules organized crime operates by is that for them to locate and operate in an area there has to be a maximum return on their investment with as minimal risk as possible. Organized crime is a business. Because of years of failed political leadership and weak and inexperienced law enforcement leaders, Arizona has become organized crime’s oyster.
At one time, Arizona was national leader when it came to investigating and prosecuting organized crime. a joint Arizona Narcotics Strike Force/FBI investigation successfully took down the boss of bosses, Mafia Godfather Joe Bonanno. The Arizona Prison Gang Task Force, a joint city, county, state and federal team, kept the state’s prison gangs in check for years and stalled their taking over the state’s prisons. And the nationally recognized Arizona Department of Public Safety sponsored multi-agency Gang Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission — originally known as GITEM — brought terror to the hearts of street gang members.
Unfortunately the Narcotics Strike Force and the Prison Gang Task Force were disbanded by the legislature.
Over the years the state legislature has shifted DPS’s anti-gang mission to immigration enforcement. They’ve also bled off monies destined for DPS in order to fund pet projects and buy future political support from politically popular county sheriffs. Now, instead of funding a statewide effort against organized crime, the legislature is planning on swiping nearly $2 million dollars from DPS anti-gang funds to pay for an armed volunteer militia.
Are there any leaders left in Arizona willing to take on organized crime?
Tempe’s neighborhood nightclub shootout is a frightening example of what organized crime is capable of. There’s no doubt Arizona has an organized crime problem. A problem that will only get worse if not addressed.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.