State must step up to fight organized crime - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

State must step up to fight organized crime

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Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 2:32 pm | Updated: 3:06 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Bill Richardson: The FBI defines 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.”

The FBI defines 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.”

They like to operate in an environment that allows maximum profits with minimal risk. Organized crime includes the Mexican drug trafficking organizations and Arizona’s estimated 30,000 street and prison gang members.

The Department of Justice’s National Gang Threat Assessment estimates gangs commit as much as 80 percent of the crime in many communities. The Arizona Department of Public Safety estimates it at 60 percent. My experts say 90 percent, but even 10 percent is too much.

According to the DOJ’s National Drug Threat Assessment, Gangs are involved with drug trafficking organizations and are conducting criminal activity across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.

The Los Angeles Times reported Arizona is the “drug gateway” into the United States, and Phoenix is ranked second in the world behind Mexico City in kidnappings for ransom, and most are linked to organized crime. Arizona is also a major source of weapons used by organized crime to kill Mexican police officers, soldiers and citizens.

If Arizona is the “drug gateway,” we’re also the gateway for organized crime from Mexico. Arizona’s ongoing organized crime problems hurt the United States, Mexico and Canada.

It hasn’t always been like this. Arizona was once a highly respected, successful and innovative leader in the war on organized crime. Not anymore.

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee held a Feb. 23 hearing on border crime and violence, i.e. organized crime. The committee is chaired by Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson. East Valley committee members include Vice Chairman John Huppenthal, R-Chandler; Meg Burton Cahill, D-Tempe; Chuck Gray, R-Mesa; and Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.

On Feb. 24, these headlines accompanied a story by Arizona Republic reporter Dennis Wagner: “Mexican drug wars may cross into Ariz.” and “Police warn lawmakers about cartel gun battles.” Witnesses at the hearing reportedly included lobbyists, prosecutors, a fed and three DPS command officers, including the department’s $150,000-a-year lobbyist.

One line in the story hit hard, “Law officers described how various task forces strive to combat the crime wave but offered no novel solutions.” Wagner is a highly respected police investigative reporter. Otherwise his words might have meant little.

Nothing new, unusual, or different came out of the hearing on how Arizona will solve its organized crime problem. Arizona’s organized criminal population has only grown in power, numbers and sophistication over the last 15 years.

It’s a sad commentary on what Arizona has become thanks in part to a failed statewide law enforcement system that some blame on DPS while others blame on increased micro-management by elected officials who won’t fund or effect meaningful change. The truth is no doubt somewhere in between.

The usual legislative remedy is to pass more laws and to blame the undocumented at a press conference. Unfortunately, organized criminals don’t care about political tough talk, nor do they obey the government’s vast array of existing and all-encompassing laws. They’re unafraid of doing business in a state that has yet to deliver exceptional leadership, a comprehensive and unified statewide law enforcement strategy and an information sharing system.

Not invited to the hearing were representatives from the East Valley Gang and Criminal Information Fusion Center housed at the Mesa Police Department, where policing has been redesigned by city and federal police agencies to effectively attack organized crime. The fusion center was born out necessity after the state’s continued failure to meet its statutory responsibilities to local law enforcement.

Attorney General Terry Goddard said it best, “Arizona is dealing with an enemy that is extremely well organized, disciplined and trained.”

There’ll be no second place winners in this gunfight. State government can’t continue to allow organized crime to grow, prosper and call Arizona home.

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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