We’re fortunate that no one was killed,” said Tempe Police Lt. Mike Horn, describing the mass shooting of 15 people at a Tempe nightclub by three suspected members of two rival street gangs, the Crips and Bloods.
The shootings that made national headlines occurred in a strip mall parking lot in front of The Clubhouse nightclub. The victims were part of an estimated crowd of 300 concert goers waiting see rapper Nipsey Hussle, a member of the Rollin’ 60’s Crips, one of Los Angeles’ largest gangs. Hussle’s gang ties are well known.
The night before the Tempe shooting, shots were reportedly fired at the venue for Hussle’s Tucson concert. Last March, shots were reportedly fired in another incident involving Hussle in Los Angeles.
It was no secret Hussle was coming to Tempe.
Was the shooting of 15 people preventable?
Tempe police did not respond to questions concerning whether they knew Hussle was coming to town, whether they conducted a threat assessment. Police also didn’t say whether they requested assistance from the East Valley Gang and Criminal Information Fusion Center to gather information on Hussle or deployed additional resources to deal with any problems that could have been anticipated at a concert where a Crip was performing and rival gangsters might show up.
Tempe didn’t request assistance from the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s nationally recognized anti-gang unit – known as the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission, or GIITEM – before or after the shootings, and police have been pointing fingers at the nightclub’s owner since. Police described past problems at the nightclub, including an unsolved gangland murder that reportedly might be linked to the Crips and Bloods, and issues with business and liquor permits. They are now investigating the business and the shootout. If the nightclub was such a problem, why didn’t police and city officials close the nightclub long ago?
Police are now expressing concern that the shooters might now kill someone. One suspect has been arrested, but two are still at large. Tempe police are fortunate the lone officer at the shooting location, who was reportedly there only to investigate a crime at the 7-11 store next door, wasn’t killed by the shooters fleeing the crime.
The police response to gang crime activity must be proactive and not reactive to be successful and protect the community.
Multiple police officials have told me Phoenix area gangs have made Tempe a destination to commit crime in order to escape the aggressive anti-gang efforts by other police agencies, including GIITEM.
The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation has linked serious crime to the presence of gang members.
Tempe’s crime analysis unit reported serious crime in the city went up 4.8 percent from 2010 to 2011. Tempe’s crime rate is now almost 10 points higher than Phoenix’s, nearly 20 points higher than Mesa’s, 22 points higher than Chandler’s and almost double Scottsdale’s. Tempe continues to have the highest crime rate in the East Valley and second highest crime rate in the Metro Phoenix area. An armed guard stands watch in front of the bank in my Tempe neighborhood.
The FBI report also links the Crips to Mexican drug cartels.
Tempe’s become a destination for the Sinaloa Drug Cartel too. Since 2009 Mexico’s most powerful drug cartel has called Tempe one of its homes. Hundreds of drug dealers with ties to the Sinaloa have reportedly been arrested in Tempe by police and federal agents.
While Tempe continually blames Arizona State University and others for its crime problem, the time has come for City Manager Charlie Meyer, the mayor and the city council to accept responsibility for the crime and ask what other cities are doing right and Tempe’s doing wrong.
As Tempe police conduct multiple investigations, city hall needs to investigate the lack of prevention, preparedness and response by Police Chief Tom Ryff and his department the night 15 concert goers were gunned down. There’s a reason criminals, drug dealers and gangsters are attracted to Tempe.
If Tempe wants to be a regional player in Arizona’s future, it needs to get a handle on its own crime problem.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.