This week marks the beginning of the trial for Joseluis Marquez who is charged with the May 26, 2010 robbery and murder of Arizona State University student Kyleigh Sousa in downtown Tempe. Her brazen murder took place across the street from a police station and was the first of three student murders in and around Tempe’s downtown that year.
This school year opened with the sexual assault and attempted sexual assault of three students at known trouble spots in the vicinities of where the 2010 murders occurred.
Since Sousa was murdered, Tempe has continued to have the highest crime rate in the East Valley and one that, according to the FBI, is significantly higher than those of Phoenix and Scottsdale – two cities with active downtown entertainment districts frequented by students and people looking for nightlife action.
The crime map on the Tempe Police Department’s website makes it easy to see that considerable serious crime in Tempe is committed in the downtown area and the area north of Broadway that’s just south of downtown. Last March a shootout between street gangs at a nightclub on Broadway left 16 people wounded.
Tempe is a known destination for gang members. According to news reports over the last three years Tempe has also become a center of activity for organized crime drug gangs.
The reason I’m rehashing Tempe’s continuing problems with serious crime, gangs, and drugs is because last week there were stories in the East Valley Tribune and Arizona Republic about problems in downtown Tempe and the latest plans to deal with it.
A downtown that was once the jewel of the valley has devolved into a place where crime, noise and panhandling are driving law-abiding citizens away from a place they once enjoyed patronizing.
My wife refuses to go to downtown Tempe for an evening out. Recent nights out at establishments in downtown Gilbert and Chandler were enjoyable and not interrupted by aggressive panhandlers, rock star wannabes, and worries about crime. Both cities have much lower crime rates than Tempe’s.
When I was a police officer walking a beat in the then-crime ridden downtown Mesa, the crime rate was nearly 30 points more than what Tempe’s current crime rate is. Thousands would gather there on weekends until city fathers decided enough was enough and took back the downtown from revelers and criminals. Mesa now has a crime rate that’s 24 points lower than Tempe’s.
Crime destroys a city’s quality of life.
Any discussion about downtown Tempe’s problems with crime needs to include what can be done to stop the problems in downtown from spreading throughout Tempe.
If you ask me, Tempe has lost control of downtown problems and crime in parts of the city. There’s a reason why criminals like Tempe. Law breakers are obviously comfortable there.
Even with Tempe pouring millions of extra tax dollars into the police department since 2007, including a sales tax increase in 2010, city officials are still trying to come up with an effective plan to prevent and control crime and take back downtown.
If Tempe, especially downtown, loses it’s charm, tax revenues will fall and Tempe will continue to sink lower on the list of desirable places to be. Other cities are chomping at the bit to make their downtowns more desirable and safer destinations for residents, businesses, visitors and a night out on the town. Tempe’s not the only downtown game around anymore.
In recent years Tempe seems to continually have downtown problems that negatively impact the community. Something’s obviously not being done right by elected and appointed city officials.
Tempe could learn much from Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa.
As Tempe once again tries to figure out what to do with the downtown’s decline and its crime problems, they need to remember the senseless murder of Kyleigh Sousa and the other crime victims who’ve paid dearly for visiting the downtown Tempe area and that crime is costly to everyone it touches.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.