Thirty two years ago, I was trying to track down a California drug dealer who was the source of PCP coming into Arizona. All I had was a physical description and a nickname — “Perry” — to go on.
Looking for leads, I called a California narcotics detective hoping he might have something on the dealer I was trying to identify.
The detective entered the limited information I gave him into a regional law enforcement information database and came back with two possible suspects, one who turned out to be the California connection for the flood of PCP on Arizona streets. With the identification of the major California supplier, a two-state drug distribution syndicate was shut down in very large part because police in California were able to check millions of records in their multi-agency police and sheriff’s records information sharing system.
Decades later, that simple database check I initiated in 1978 still can’t be done in Arizona.
Tempe police are looking for a suspect after ASU student Kyleigh Sousa was tragically killed a month ago during an attempted robbery. Although police have suspect and vehicle descriptions, they have yet to solve the case. There is no statewide, or even a countywide, information sharing system at their disposal to help their search, no ability to cross-reference individuals who might also be on the radar or in the databases of other police agencies in Arizona.
Finally, however, someone is trying to do something about this huge failing when it comes to public safety.
Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley has called a meeting of local law enforcement leaders next month to create a county-wide crime information collection, analysis and sharing system to address the problem of serious felony crime and to make our law enforcement agencies more effective by improving communication and cooperation. This comes after Valley police chiefs and local law enforcement leaders were briefed last week on the need to establish such a program.
Romley’s plan could become a model for a statewide crime information sharing system that has escaped Arizona for decades.
Until now, no one with county-wide law enforcement authority has stepped forward to take a proven felony crime-fighting tool to every city in Maricopa County.
Arizona has spent millions on the Department of Public Safety’s Arizona Counter Terrorism Intelligence Center. It costs almost $2 million a year just to open the doors and turn on the lights at the secret anti-terrorism center. According to chiefs, sheriffs and cops I’ve spoken with, the ACTIC has long failed to deliver what is needed to fight crime.
Out of necessity, the East Valley Gang and Criminal Intelligence Fusion Center was established by East Valley police in order to share information about local crime. With just $250,000 in RICO funds, the fusion center became a reality. The center has assisted police greatly with targeting criminal behavior and reducing crime well beyond the national average.
Unfortunately, the fusion center is limited by the fact that Arizona and Maricopa County do not have an all-inclusive information sharing system or critical links to national crime information sharing programs.
Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell, the director of the Fusion Center, will host Romley’s meeting of the chiefs to develop a new and better way of doing police work in the state’s most populated county.
And hopefully bring law enforcement into the 21st century and give police the tools they need to better solve crimes, like the still unsolved murder of Kyleigh Sousa.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org