Phoenix police have adopted a zero tolerance policy toward gang members, says the Arizona Republic. Says one police sergeant: “If they commit a traffic violation, they’re going to get a ticket. If they have guns or dope, they’re going to jail. Anything just to let them know we’re watching them.” This year, three area police officers have been gunned down by gang members. In Phoenix, the number of gang-related homicides more than doubled from six in 2003 to 16 in 2006. There have been 11 murders this year. Gang members also are responsible for armed robberies, home invasions, thefts, and drug dealing in neighborhoods.
Arizona officials estimate there are 20,000 known gang members belonging to 2,500 street gangs. Nationwide, the number of gang members has more than tripled, from 250,000 in 1991 to 800,000 now. From New Jersey to Arizona and California, legislatures are passing tougher laws to target gang activity and police are fighting back. In the Phoenix area, police tactics include saturation patrols and mass arrests, coupled with a surge in intelligence gathering, and the creation of massive, real-time gang databases that are being shared among agencies like never before. A newly formed Arizona Gang Investigators Association already has 300 members.