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Giffords’ summit elevates Ariz. crime debate

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (center) speaks during a press conference  earlier this month after more than 60 leaders from local, state and  federal agencies gathered for a border violence summit.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (center) speaks during a press conference earlier this month after more than 60 leaders from local, state and federal agencies gathered for a border violence summit.

Law officers from Arizona border counties plus Pinal County, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., huddled in Tucson on April 7 for a summit called by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Arizona long has been a prime destination for organized crime. And after years of neglect by state government, Arizona is now the gateway to the U.S. for the Mexican drug cartels.

David Gonzales, U.S. marshal for Arizona, described Giffords’ sit-down as a milestone in addressing the problems.

Gonzales, a former undercover narcotics agent and gang unit commander in southern Arizona, had high praise for the Tucson Democratic congresswoman.

The summit focused on the totality of border crime, not just illegal immigration. Human smuggling is one of many criminal endeavors by which domestic and international organized crime make tens of billions of dollars from the U.S.

Border control is just part of the solution.

Giffords obviously understands what’s really going on. She assembled some of the best minds in the business and sought facts, not emotion and bravado. She got what she asked for, no holds barred!

Ritchie Martinez, a criminal intelligence analysis supervisor from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Center, told Giffords cartel members are in Arizona to protect business and expand their markets.

HIDTA is a significant source of federal funding and support for local law enforcement projects designed to combat cross-border and organized crime in Arizona.

Martinez has spent 36 years working the border and is one of the top criminal intelligence experts in the world.

After the summit, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told KJZZ radio (91.5 FM) that violence from Mexico’s ongoing drug war is here.

Gonzales agreed: “Organized crime groups with ties to the drug cartels are here, growing and joining forces with, or charging other criminals taxes to conduct criminal activity in the state.”

In a March 25 Associated Press story, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, who also attended the summit, said these cartels “are responsible for kidnappings, shootings, rapes and banditry” in his county.

In Arizona, 30,600 violent crimes and 279,794 serious property crimes were reported in 2007. Only about 1 in 5 is solved.

U.S. Department of Justice officials have attributed 80 percent of all crimes to organized crime groups and say Mexican organized crime is in Arizona.

Arizona now is America’s eighth-most-dangerous state, the Congressional Quarterly announced in March.

Recent seizures of Mexican heroin in northern Arizona show how far-reaching the problem is in our state.

And the recent arrests of U.S. street gangsters in Phoenix and San Diego – for separate multimillion-dollar fraudulent enterprises – demonstrate a new level of diversification by cunning organized criminals who long were thought to be capable of only dealing drugs, drive-by shootings and stealing beer.

Giffords expressed concern about the state’s need for resources and the ability of law officials to share information and move rapidly and collectively against the growing and increasingly unified enemy, organized crime.

“Communication and cooperation are not optional,” she said.

Unfortunately, Arizona is lacking significantly when it comes to effective communications. From the millions in federal public safety dollars the state receives, officials have not spent even a small portion on an urgently needed statewide system to collect, share and communicate criminal information between law enforcement agencies.

Even though the Legislature has pledged $1.6 million for Maricopa County immigration sweeps, it won’t fund a $2.5 million project to allow every police officer in Arizona to communicate and share information on crime and criminals.

Giffords’ summit jump- started a long overdue, serious, nonpartisan discussion of the crime that has permeated the border and made its presence well known throughout Arizona.

Her “take the point” leadership is extremely refreshing.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley. E-mail: bill.richardson@cox.net



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