A decade after Arizona law enforcement agencies led a push to rein in escalating gang activity, street gangs are making a resurgence; officials say they are more violent and more organized than ever, reports the Arizona Republic. The new generation of gangs looks, in many ways, more like the Mafia than the traditional band of thugs hanging out on street corners in colored clothing, posturing for respect, and fighting to protect their ‘hoods. Street gangs have branched out of their neighborhoods to commit home invasions, armed robberies, auto thefts and burglaries, all in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. They are smuggling humans, laundering money, and prostituting women. In some cases, rival gangs are putting aside their differences and working together if it means a quick buck. While many victims are associated with criminal activity, even some who are innocent are falling prey. “It is, in my opinion, out of control and growing,” said the state Department of Public Safety’s Lt. Bruce Campbell. “Law enforcement has not been able to get their hands around it. We are trying.”
Police say gang members who were thrown in prison in the ’90s with enhanced sentences for operating criminal syndicates now are being released, and there is a simultaneous influx of gang members from California, where a third felony conviction mandates life in prison. Many law enforcement agencies cut back or eliminated their gang units after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, diverting detectives to homeland security and leaving gangs virtually unchecked in many cities. At the same time, the state cut funding for DPS’ Gang Intelligence and Team Enforcement Mission, or GITEM, essentially disbanding the multi- agency effort as the number of assigned officers dropped from 110 to just 25. “That word gets around real quick in the gang community,” said Mesa police Detective Adam Biermann.