Richardson: County missing from public safety effort - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Richardson: County missing from public safety effort

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Posted: Friday, October 10, 2008 8:06 pm | Updated: 8:40 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Cities in Maricopa County are in trouble.

Day-to-day costs are escalating and the state government is trying to balance its mismanaged budget on the backs of municipalities. The plan is to hit the cities hard, get them to cough up the cash and make the state capital circus look good.

Cities will have to scramble. It won't be pretty. And as much as the Legislature and governor crow about how important our public safety is, their recent actions that allowed the Arizona Department of Public Safety to demand payment for crime lab services is more evidence of the state further reneging on its law enforcement responsibilities to us. Prior to the lab issue, DPS and its elected overseers have consistently failed to keep the statewide agency in line with available 21st century technologies and modern and proven methods of crime suppression.

It's not just the state that's taking it to the cities. Maricopa County government is also picking our pockets.

According to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, from 1999 to 2007 the county collected a special tax that has given it nearly $1 billion to prop up jail operations. On July 17, the Associated Press reported that since 2002 the county has increased booking charges 100 percent and housing costs by 75 percent. In Yavapai County, where they also have a jail tax, there are no booking nor housing charges for cities.

Even with the hundreds of millions of dollars we've given to the county, it still fails to deliver quality law enforcement services.

According the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, serious crime in our cities is down, but in the county, from 2004 to 2007, the area patrolled by the sheriff and where crimes are prosecuted by County Attorney Andrew Thomas experienced a spike in reported serious felony crimes from 6,971 to 10,168. That's an increase of 45 percent.

Criminal activity from county crime havens spills over into our cities. Police officials tell me the county's failures contribute to city crime and increased costs.

The county, much like the state, just can't get its public safety act together. Yet it wastes millions on pet projects such as trips to Honduras, publicity campaigns and duplicitous programs that waste resources and credibility.

In an effort to combat crime in the East Valley during these cash-lean times, our city police have banded together to form a new anti-crime partnership. They've joined with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enfocement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, Salt River Tribal Police and the U.S. Marshal's Service in this regional strategy to attack crime. The county attorney, sheriff and DPS have not joined this city-federal effort.

The feds have brought needed manpower, resources and equipment that is unaffordable to the city agencies. Their assistance with federal grants helped establish the team.

Along with the help from federal officers, Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., has made sure that the resources of his office are available to help these agencies obtain needed cash and a strong Washington connection. The East Valley city-federal model is being touted nationally as a way to to get more bang for the public safety dollar while doing a better job of protecting the community. The reduced city crime rates speak volumes.

While our state and county governments pilfer from city bank accounts, Mitchell has been sending cash to East Valley police agencies so they can continue the fight against crime. Tempe and Mesa police have already received much-needed fiscal support and our local police departments are on tap to receive nearly $11 million in 2009.

As the state and county turn away from our local policing needs, federal law enforcement agencies and Mitchell have contributed greatly to our safer streets and the East Valley's highly successful team approach to policing.

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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.

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