Tim Chung: In response to Bill Richardson’s Feb. 6 column, “Gangs growing in power,” I would like to set the record straight and assure our citizens that Arizona is well prepared in its law enforcement efforts to target organized crime — gangs, drugs, illegal immigrants, firearms trafficking and smuggling and other associated crimes.

In response to Bill Richardson’s Feb. 6 column, “Gangs growing in power,” I would like to set the record straight and assure our citizens that Arizona is well prepared in its law enforcement efforts to target organized crime — gangs, drugs, illegal immigrants, firearms trafficking and smuggling and other associated crimes.

Richardson refers to the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment. True, the report states the fact that Arizona has been experiencing a rise in the rate of gang-related crime. On a national level, the assessment indicates criminal gangs commit as much as 80 percent of the crime in many communities. One must read the entire report to see the distinction between what’s occurring in the Southwest as opposed to the rest of the country.

The assessment explains that gangs in our region which includes Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — all bordering Mexico, are responsible for as much as 60 percent of crime.

The Southwest region is not only 20 percent below the national average but it’s 20 percent below our neighboring Pacific Region which includes the states of California and Nevada.

I would like to point out how one program at the Arizona Department of Public Safety has been collaborating with other criminal justice agencies in Arizona to address the growing gang and illegal immigration issues on a statewide level.

CHANGING TACTICS

In 2006, our state lawmakers took an aggressive stance on stopping gang and illegal immigration-related crimes and revitalized the old state gang task forces and created the new GIITEM, the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission.

In addition, those same lawmakers provided special funding to the task force and added the responsibilities of deterring border related crimes and combating the rising incidents of human smuggling and illegal immigration.

GIITEM’s unique approach brings together law enforcement and prosecuting agencies from city, county, state, federal and tribal jurisdictions in a coordinated, intelligence-driven approach to deal with gangs and violent human smuggling organizations on a large scale. Traditionally, Arizona agencies addressed the gang problem individually rather than collectively. The primary benefit of GIITEM is its ability to cripple gangs and human smuggling organizations in the state.

GIITEM’s mission is very specific. The men and women of GIITEM are dedicated to deterring criminal gang activity through investigations, arrests and prosecution while they work toward dismantling gang-related criminal enterprises. They do that by collecting, analyzing and disseminating gang and illegal immigration intelligence and by providing anti-gang and human smuggling awareness training to communities and schools.

At the end of January, GIITEM consisted of 204 extremely dedicated employees from 44 different participating law enforcement agencies. Of those 204 employees, 105 are sworn DPS officers, 23 are DPS civilian employees, three are DPS civilian reserves, 57 are sworn officers from other police agencies and 16 are civilian employees from other police agencies.

APPROACH IS WORKING

GIITEM’s State Gang Task Force is a multi-agency operation that incorporates a multi-pronged approach which includes aggressive, overt patrol, undercover activities and long-term investigations.

An example of the success this approach can have is “Operation Blank Check.” This year long multi-agency investigation of a major drug-trafficking and criminal fraud ring in Phoenix led to the indictment of 183 individuals and 127 arrests. These arrests included violent hard-core gang members from 22 different gangs. The investigation involved the FBI, Postal Inspection Service, Phoenix police, Mesa police, DPS and the Arizona Department of Corrections.

In reference to Richardson’s assertion that DPS refused to join the highly successful East Valley Gang and Criminal Information Fusion Center, GIITEM did discuss the possibility of partnering with the EVGCI Fusion Center. However, the primary challenge GIITEM faces is the fact that the Fusion Center’s current agreement requires GIITEM to commit a full-time employee for one year.

Like other police agencies, GIITEM has been unable to fill many positions due to the declining economy and the state’s hiring freeze. Therefore we cannot commit a full-time employee to a one-year assignment due to the responsibilities of GIITEM’s statewide task force.

Arizona’s finite law enforcement resources are far from being wasted on “nickel and dime” gang and illegal immigration enforcement. Our success has come through the leveraging of multi-agency collaboration from city, county, state, federal and tribal criminal justice agencies; technology and innovative enforcement strategies.

Gangs and human smugglers are scrambling to forge new partnerships with other criminal organizations because of the collaboration, cooperation, well-established relationships, and the coordinated efforts from our citizens, law enforcement and prosecutors in Arizona. GIITEM is proud to play a vital role in that effort and together we will all be successful.

Cmdr. Tim Chung of the Arizona Department of Public Safety oversees the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission.

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