Richardson: Targeting addicts the more effective way to reduce crime in our cities - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Richardson: Targeting addicts the more effective way to reduce crime in our cities

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 8:30 am | Updated: 9:27 pm, Sat Jul 14, 2012.

“We’ve cut off the head of the snake. This definitely makes it a lot harder for our children and residents to get drugs. We can go out all day and arrest people with marijuana or a sixteenth of an ounce of meth. Or we can go out and do an investigation like this for six months and affect thousands of people.” -- Tempe police Lt. Noah Johnson, East Valley Tribune story Tempe part of major drug bust connected to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, July 6, 2012

On July 6 at a press conference Tempe police announced with the help of the Drug Enforcement Administration they’d busted 20 members of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel who’d been running drugs out of a residence near a Tempe police station. Police said the lengthy investigation resulted in 14 warrants served statewide and the seizure of $2.4 million dollars, 3 tons of marijuana, 30 pounds of meth, 14 guns, 10 vehicles and one airplane.

This is Tempe’s third case since 2009 against the global Sinaloa cartel that’s considered the biggest and baddest in the world. Its leader Joaquin Guzman is on Forbe’s list of billionaires. Guzman controls drugs in Arizona, the state he’s made a major transshipment in his hemispheric supply chain.

While the latest Tempe bust sounds like it might impact “thousands of people,” the feds estimate Mexican drug traffickers generate $20-$40 billion dollars annually from U.S. drug sales. Heroin production in 2009 was estimated at 110,000 pounds. Marijuana production is measured in the tens of thousands of tons. Drug availability, production and demand are up. A 2012 story in the Texas Tribune said “Mexican traffickers make $5 billion annually from meth.”

The May 22 edition of reported Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Matthew Allen testified before Congress, "approximately 23 percent of the narcotics and approximately 53 percent of the currency" linked to the drug trade and seized by ICE officials came from Arizona last fiscal year.

Unfortunately, the proverbial snake Johnson mentions has thousands of heads. There’s nothing in my 20 years working drug investigations or anything I can find that tells me this bust will “make it a lot harder to get drugs.”

Thousands of people, many of whom are associated with Arizona’s massive gang and career criminal population, work for the Sinaloans delivering an uninterrupted supply of dope to buyers.

Police officials love to tough talk after a drug bust. I’ve heard the same spiel for decades and all I can see that’s changed is Mexico-based drug businesses have gone from mom-and-pop operations to global criminal enterprises -- and Arizona has become an illegal drug super-store.

Big busts haven’t solved or even slowed the crime that’s linked to heroin and meth addicts.

Cops from across the state told me addicts commit as much as 85 percent to 90 percent of Arizona’s burglaries and thefts, and many criminals are high on heroin or meth when they commit armed robberies and murders. Most are career criminals. Many have warrants for their arrest.

Over a quarter of a million serious felony crimes were committed in Arizona during 2010. About 20 percent were solved.

While not politically correct, the one thing that has proven to reduce crime is targeting addicts for arrest.

Targeting users has been highly successful in reducing DUI related accidents.

The Arizona Republic reported on Jan. 25, 2012 that “Mesa police reported a 34 percent increase in drug arrests during the past two years.” Mesa targets addicts who commit crimes. Its crime rate is almost 20 points lower than Tempe’s.

Should Tempe police leave the Sinaloa Cartel to the DEA and ICE and concentrate on addicts with a “sixteenth ounce of meth” who are responsible for most serious crime?

We can argue all day about what to do about America’s ongoing drug problems.

But the one thing we do know for sure is when addicts who commit crimes are locked up, they’re not committing crimes in our cities.

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