Ariz. must get serious about career criminals - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Ariz. must get serious about career criminals

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Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 8:58 pm | Updated: 3:25 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Bill Richardson: Five Valley police officers have lost their lives at the hands of career criminals in less than three years. For too long the growth of career criminals in Arizona has gone virtually unchecked, and the cold-blooded and calculated murder of Gilbert police Lt. Eric Shuhandler is overwhelming evidence that the problem continues to grow.

Career Criminal: A person having a past record of multiple arrests or convictions for serious crimes, or an unusually large number of arrests or convictions for crimes of varying degrees of seriousness. — Florida Department of Law Enforcement

In February 2007, a Glendale police officer was shot and killed; the suspect, a career criminal. Five months later, a Phoenix police officer was shot and killed; the suspect was also a career criminal. Two months later a second Phoenix officer was killed by a career criminal.

Before the Glendale officer’s murder, a fellow Glendale officer narrowly missed death after being marked for assassination by a career criminal.

Last December, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer was killed during the pursuit of a career criminal who was attempting to escape from police in a stolen vehicle.

And on Jan. 28, Gilbert police Lt. Eric Shuhandler was shot and killed after stopping a vehicle occupied by two career criminals.

Five Valley police officers have lost their lives at the hands of career criminals in less than three years. It’s been reported that five of the six who attacked officers also had outstanding arrest warrants for them when they committed what many consider to be the ultimate assault on a free society, a murderous attack on a police officer.

Only one of the suspected cop killers was an illegal immigrant who’d been in and out of the county jail for years and was wanted by Maricopa County authorities on a felony arrest warrant when the officer was killed.

There are an estimated 50,000 outstanding felony warrants in Arizona. Close to 40,000 of those are in Maricopa County.

Arizona is on its second or third generation of career criminals. Many of them started out as kids from dysfunctional situations, often state-raised, who grew up to see other human beings as objects, not people. They aren’t afraid of law enforcement and prison.

Career criminals will do whatever they have to do to survive and escape, even if it means killing a cop.

For too long the growth of career criminals in Arizona has gone virtually unchecked, and the cold-blooded and calculated murder of Shuhandler is overwhelming evidence that the problem continues to grow.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, as much as 80 percent of Arizona’s serious crime is committed by organized crime gangs. Gang members by and large are career criminals.

Experts tell me Arizona has at least 30,000 organized crime gang members, many with ties to the Mexican Mafia and Mexican drug trafficking organizations that control the vast majority of organized crime in Arizona.

Career criminals, many with outstanding arrest warrants, are at war with society, and they kill police officers with impunity.

Without serious change, things will continue on their current destructive path or maybe even get worse.

Arizona still lacks the fundamental tools and a statewide law enforcement policy necessary to effectively attack career criminals.

Basic information collection, sharing and analysis on violent and predatory criminals and investigative tools that are in use in much of the United States still aren’t available to many Arizona police agencies.

While parts of the U.S. have become considerably more advanced in the war against career criminals, Arizona’s legislative emphasis for criminal justice resources has been on the easiest of low-grade offenders to identify and arrest, and those that produce the best press for publicity-grabbing and myopic politicians.

This misplaced emphasis has created a statewide public safety system that has allowed our homegrown career criminals to grow bigger, stronger and increasingly more dangerous for the police officers who come in contact with them.

Arizona’s current failed statewide law-enforcement policies have no doubt contributed to the carnage.

With California’s planned release of thousands of career criminals from its prisons, Arizona can expect to become a destination for those who see our state as the land of opportunity and easy pickings. It’s no secret among criminals that Arizona is a good place to do business.

The time has come for serious change to Arizona’s failed statewide public safety system. A public safety system that continues to cost us all dearly in tax dollars and the lives of dedicated police officers.

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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