Two out of three killers are getting away with murder in Phoenix this year as the city’s homicide total climbs toward a record, the Arizona Republic says. Through October, 216 people were killed in Phoenix, more than in all of last year. The record 241 homicides in 1994 could be exceeded.
Homicide detectives say they are so overwhelmed that, in some cases, they can do little more than just document the murder scene and move on to the next one. The clearance rate has dropped to an unprecedented 31 percent. The average clearance rate last year was 58 percent for cities with populations more than 250,000. In Phoenix last year, 48 percent of murders were solved.
“If you’re methodical and you plan things out, it’s very difficult to catch you,” said Phoenix police Lt. Rich Benson. Police blame an increase in immigrant and narcotics smuggling and the state’s lax gun laws for much of this year’s rise in homicides and the drop in the clearance rate.
It can take weeks, sometimes months, to identify victims who have just immigrated into the country. Finding information on their activities and possible suspects is even tougher. Ties to the community are virtually non-existent, and the world of smugglers is secretive and difficult to infiltrate.
Homicide detectives haven’t been added since the mid-1990s, even though the city’s population has grown more than 34 percent since 1990. Police Chief Harold Hurtt said more murders are connected to criminal organizations, like those that smuggle people and drugs, and those groups are becoming more violent. “With our proximity to the border and our drug problem and the availability of weapons, we’ve somehow created the perfect storm for homicide,” Hurtt said.
Federal immigration officials are adding 50 agents to its 100-person staff in Phoenix in response to an explosion of violence between groups that smuggle illegal immigrants into this country, USA Today reports.
The agents will work against brutal crime groups fighting for control of lucrative smuggling pipelines that bring thousands of undocumented Mexicans into the country each month. More than 60 percent of slayings this year in Phoenix have been linked to smugglers, who sometimes target the human cargo of their competitors.
“We’re dealing with ruthless individuals who view human life as nothing more than cargo for profit,” said Michael Garcia of the Homeland Security Department.
Officials said the conflicts among smugglers stem in part from the pressure to find new avenues into the U.S. after heightened border security followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Police Chief Hurtt said officers have found immigrant “safe houses” throughout the city. Last week, four people were killed and five others were injured in a chaotic shootout on Interstate 10 that involved rival traffickers and a hijacked load of 20 illegal immigrants.