Phoenix PD’s Sanctuary City Proposal Could Trigger Spike in Violence, Say Officers

AP Photo/Matt York
AP Photo/Matt York

PHOENIX, Arizona –The recent revelation that City of Phoenix Police Department is planning a return to a restrictive policy that would limit officers from contacting immigration authorities has raised red flags among active and retired law enforcement who worked during a time when a similar measure led to a dramatic spike in violence.

Phoenix Police is working in making changes to their current operational procedure for officers, Breitbart Texas reported. The new changes to the policy would force officers to get permission from supervisors before contacting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in dealing with suspects, victims, or witnesses who may be in the country illegally.

Phoenix has always had a large Latino population, primarily due to its proximity to the Mexican border, as well as plentiful jobs and affordable housing. What Phoenix did not have was at one time was a big city homicide problem.

In 1985, before Phoenix took on a series of sanctuary city-type policies, the city had an illegal immigrant population of less than 90,000 and had a total of 89 homicides.  The homicides and the number of illegal immigrants in the city began to steadily climb in the years after. By 1994 and 1995, homicides had reached 231 and 221 respectively and the illegal immigrant population climbed to approximately 160,000. The violent trend continued. During a nine-year period between 1999-2007, the city saw more than 200 yearly homicides for seven of the nine years. By 2007, the number of illegal aliens in Phoenix was listed at over 500,000.

During this time, homicide detectives were forced to deal with a new type of crime that was not common where the victim or the suspect were in the country illegally and more often than not, the crime was linked to Mexican criminal organizations; those cases became very difficult to investigate.

Many of these victims were being kidnapped, bound, gagged, brutally tortured, and murdered at an unknown location, then dumped throughout the city or the sparsely populated county area, many times wrapped tightly in a blanket, rug, or shower curtain. Patrol officers were being dispatched to check welfare calls and discovering what was believed to be a homicide scene without a body.

For the victims that were found in these crimes; investigators faced more challenges with the victims not being U.S. citizens and often not having any identifying information on file. Authorities had to rely on the victim’s arrest record or prior encounters with law enforcement for fingerprints. Not knowing the identity of the victim presented a major hurdle for law enforcement since investigators had no family members or associates to interview leading to a victim who was was completely unknown.

With the alarming rate of homicides in the early 2000s, Phoenix Police was forced to organize an ad-hoc group to meet and discuss the rising homicide rate and the equally disturbing low number of homicides that were being solved. At the time, investigators voiced their findings but city officials and within the command staff at Phoenix Police were not convinced that the escalating illegal immigration had opened the door for Mexican drug cartels and their crimes.

While neither the city nor the department kept stats about the number of suspects or victims being in the country illegally, retired and current homicide investigators who worked in that era have revealed that illegal immigrants easily made up half of the Hispanic homicide victims. The challenges in dealing with illegal aliens as homicide suspects dealt with most of them fleeing to Mexico or blending into the illegal immigrant communities.

Prior to Mexican drug cartels openly operating in Arizona, some Phoenix homicide detectives had a homicide clearance rate of 90 percent or better. Part of that success rate was linked to the victims being known U.S. citizens and as such having identifying information on file. During the crisis, the clearance rate of homicides reported by some detectives dipped between the mid 20’s to low 30 percent depending on how many of the homicides being assigned to each detective dealt with illegal aliens. During that time, approximately 60 percent of homicide victims in Phoenix were Hispanic even though the total population was only 30% Hispanic.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.)


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