Richardson: Decision to bring in DPS warrants praise - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Richardson: Decision to bring in DPS warrants praise

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2008 10:56 pm | Updated: 9:30 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

He was small in stature and at first glance looked like most anyone else. What you couldn’t see was his past, where he’d been and what he’d done. What he’d done was kidnap a woman during an armed robbery and later rape her. To see him up close he didn’t look like a rapist, but what does a rapist really look like?

When I met him he was a fugitive and wanted by police in another jurisdiction. He’d fled after his arrest, landed in Mesa and struck again. My job was to make the case that would put him prison for rest of his life. We were lucky, the woman he kidnapped and raped in Mesa didn’t die.

He’d mutilated her badly and by all rights she should’ve been dead. Thank God I wasn’t dealing with one more rapist turned murderer.

Right now there are 1,187 outstanding Maricopa County Superior Court arrest warrants for rape and aggravated assault, 121 for kidnapping, 151 for robbery and 194 for murder.

There are also 640 outstanding warrants for auto theft, 629 for burglary, 9,490 for drug and narcotics crimes and 21,560 for probation violations. The grand total for all felony warrants is 42,482. Just over 1 percent of the county’s population is made up of wanted felons.

And no one is even talking about the thousands of outstanding arrest warrants for those charged with DUI by the county’s justice courts.

Drunken drivers, just like wanted felons, continue to re-offend until captured.

I spoke with Beckie Miller, the Phoenix chapter leader for Parents Of Murdered Children. Her concerns about the number of violent felons is real, she knows firsthand what murderers do.

She told me, “I think that all of Arizona citizens should be concerned that there are so many outstanding warrants for fugitives in and of itself but the violent offenses, in particular, truly concern me the most. More crime is likely being committed by each violent offender remaining out of custody.”

As Miller said, fugitives can continue to commit crime and present a serious threat to the community as a whole. But they also present an extreme threat to police officers.

During the last two years in Maricopa County, three officers have been murdered and one seriously wounded by fugitives who were stopped while committing other crimes and used deadly force to try and prevent their capture.

Maricopa County has 12 times the number of serious felony warrants as Pima County, even though Pima has a third of Maricopa County’s population and share a border with Mexico where cross-border crime is common and difficult to stop.

In an effort to stop the threat posed by the state’s wanted population of more than 59,000 fugitives, almost 75 percent from Maricopa County, on May 12 Gov. Janet Napolitano, acting on the recommendation of Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Roger Vanderpool, issued an executive order directing DPS to partner with city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies and target the state’s wanted felons.

Vanderpool, a career state trooper and former Pinal County sheriff, is known for his calm, level-headed and common-sense approach to policing. For over three decades he’s quietly earned the respect and trust of his peers statewide and beyond.

David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for Arizona, told me Napolitano couldn’t have made a better choice for a police leader to attack the problem. DPS, U.S. marshals and every law enforcement agency in Arizona will play key roles in the new statewide fugitive task force.

Gonzales’ praise of Vanderpool is echoed by every cop I’ve ever talked to. I second what they say and then some. Vanderpool’s a genuine Arizona lawman who chases real criminals.

I have high praise for Napolitano, who really showed what she’s made of and for her courage in standing up for the public’s safety.

A recent Tribune editorial pointed out that Napolitano took serious political risks in opposing elected Maricopa County law enforcement officials and legislative leaders with their own agenda, who don’t see the need to use state taxpayer funds to mount an all-out attack on wanted felons and career criminals as part of a statewide anti-crime strategy.

Miller said of the governor’s action, “I am happy the governor’s office has begun a task force to address this problem and I have every confidence she will do just that.

“Every attempt to bring fugitives to justice is another step in keeping our communities safer and in providing justice for the victims’ and their families.”

Napolitano and Vanderpool both get gold stars in my book on this one.

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