Bill Richardson: The problem: Arizona has become a destination for organized crime activities linked to the Mexican drug cartels. Because of the growth of organized crime, our state has become a destination and major transshipment point for drugs and illegal immigrants, just two of many profit centers for organized crime. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates 80 percent of crime is linked to organized crime groups.
The problem: Arizona has become a destination for organized crime activities linked to the Mexican drug cartels. Because of the growth of organized crime, our state has become a destination and major transshipment point for drugs and illegal immigrants, just two of many profit centers for organized crime. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates 80 percent of crime is linked to organized crime groups.
How did we get in this mess? Arizona, the state that has been described as “the gateway” to the United States for organized crime from Mexico, has become the hub of organized criminal activities because of the ineffective use of power and taxpayer dollars by the Republican Legislature that’s been in control for decades and failed in its oversight duties of statewide law enforcement functions.
In the early 1980s, the Republican-controlled Legislature dismantled the Arizona Drug Control District-Narcotics Strike Force and the Narcotics Information Network of Arizona — a highly effective program to attack organized crime that was designed and implemented by local police, sheriffs and county attorneys after the state failed to adequately address the problems of crime moving into Arizona from Mexico. The former state agency’s success has never been replicated. This legislative decision opened a door in the Arizona-Mexico border for organized crime to move north and put down deep roots in Arizona.
The Legislature has also chosen to not properly staff or adequately fund the highway patrol division of the state Department of Public Safety. Once contraband crosses the border it must be moved north. Much of it by vehicles on Arizona’s highways.
The highway patrol, the state’s first line of defense against drugs and illegal immigrants, has been thinned to the point that highly mobile criminals move in and out of Arizona and across its highways with impunity. Arizona’s highways have become a path of least resistance. On my 600-mile excursion across Arizona last weekend, I saw only two highway patrolmen.
So now we have a border door left open and sparsely patrolled state highways. Arizona has crime and criminals moving north with ease.
The Legislature has also failed to ensure that a statewide anti-crime strategy exists and that those state agencies charged with protecting us deliver an extremely high-quality product in return for the billions in tax dollars that have gone to them.
Accountability at the state Capitol is unheard of. Arizona’s local law enforcement agencies still don’t have a statewide crime information sharing system. The Legislature has refused to fund it even though it could save the state tens of millions of dollars.
The state crime lab doesn’t fully use DNA technology to identify criminals due to the Legislature’s failed oversight. And police and sheriffs departments have largely been left to fend for themselves while the Legislature’s myopic focus has been to fund publicity-grabbing pet projects and political benefactors. The federal government has helped local law enforcement deal with the organized crime problem far more than the state has.
Now we can add a dysfunctional statewide law enforcement system to the open border and lawless highways.
Since 1980, we’ve had three Democrats and four Republicans serve as governor. Only the Republicans have controlled the Legislature and its critical oversight of statewide law enforcement. They’ve controlled state policing through legislation and demagoguery, and they haven’t done a good job. Arizona has the organized crime, drugs and illegal immigrants to prove it.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.