Local police need state help in tough cases - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Local police need state help in tough cases

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Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2009 6:57 pm | Updated: 1:52 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

“Remember Mr. Gravely! These people are out there. They exist. They’re evil.”

Kim Hale, Tempe police commander, Sept. 4, 2008

Kim Hale was referring to Graham Gravely, a career criminal who was arrested last year after kidnaping and raping of an elderly widow. Gravely’s quick identification and capture were do in large part to East Valley police using the latest technologies to go after criminals.

Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping of Mesa 11-year-old Mikelle Biggs. The tools and technologies in policing that have evolved in the last decade are online at the Mesa Police Department. They’re instantly accessible to the East Valley and federal police agencies that have joined together to provide better policing. These resources are committed to solving the Biggs kidnapping.

Mesa’s quick identification and capture of a serial rapist-murderer last year is another shining example of how things can be happen when police work is done right. That’s how things are done now in the East Valley.

The East Valley partnership was born out of necessity after the state continually failed to deliver resources needed by local police.

Since 2006 when Police Chief George Gascon arrived in Mesa, the rate for solving homicides has gone up from 50 percent to 90 percent. The average homicide solve rate in Arizona is 52 percent.

Unfortunately, there are huge and tragic gaps when it comes to effective policing in Arizona. Look at how the recent double murder investigation in St. Johns was handled by local police and sheriff’s officers. The whole world watched how police work can be done wrong in Arizona. Many will blame local authorities for the debacle witnessed by millions on television. But I look at the state and ask why wasn’t there proper support for local law enforcement?

In Texas, the Rangers, which are part of the Texas Department of Public Safety, would’ve been called in. We all know how good they are. Mistakes were made that could’ve been prevented.

In every state I know of, there is a state criminal investigations agency in place to support and assist local law enforcement when help is needed, like in murder, rape and kidnapping investigations. Not in Arizona.

This wasn’t the first time local law enforcement did the best they could with what they had and it turned out wrong. The state has chosen not to support local police and sheriffs with needed tools and technologies. Mistakes will happen again.

Arizona’s decades-old failure to support an information sharing system has no doubt contributed to violent serial offenders escaping detection or quick capture. The Serial and Baseline killers that terrorized metro Phoenix were in the system. Sadly, the state couldn’t link the information of their past and present crimes. This would’ve been done routinely in many other jurisdictions outside of Arizona. The murderous rampages might have been stopped early on.

And now the state has chosen to charge police chiefs and sheriffs for crime lab services.

The state has pleaded poverty to support their decision to step backward when it comes to our flawed statewide law enforcement system.

Arizona may be broke, but so is everyone else. Yet East Valley cities have recreated policing while cutting costs and increasing efficiency by using RICO funds, federal grants, shared resources, public-private partnerships and contributions from non-police governmental entities. Mesa Police Department’s crime lab is second to none.

The state needs to learn how to do it right from the East Valley. The Legislature has made top priorities of changing the license plate frame law and giving Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio greater search and seizure powers without first getting a search warrant from a judge.

If there is any solace to the Biggs family, the Mesa Police Department and their partners are doing everything possible by doing police work right.

Sadly that can’t be said for parts of the rest of Arizona — thanks to the state’s continued failure to get it right when it comes to policing. And if the Legislature messes it up again, they won’t have Janet Napolitano to blame for their failures.

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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