Drug Policy

Phoenix's Police is Un-American in His Criticism of Arizona's Immigration Law!

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Does Arizona's new immigration law provide a tool to help Phoenix stop being the Kidnap Capital of America? Let's listen in, via Media Matters, to the city's top cop:

It provides a tool to divert our officers from investigating property crimes and violent crimes and divert their -- these resources, our personnel to enforcing civil portions of federal immigration law. In other words, it takes officers away from doing what our main core mission of local law enforcement is, and that's to make our communities safe and enforce our criminal codes in that effort.

Partial transcript, full video here.

And what about Phoenix's newfound props as "The Kidnapping Capital of The United States"? I'd be interested in getting an authoritative ranking from any vaguely reliable source of, say, the top 10 towns in the U.S. Because you know what? Just as with many factoids (literally, things having the shape, though not necessarily the reality, of facts), this one is more disseminated than substantiated.

But let's assume that it's totally true that Phoenix has more kidnappings (or its subset, "ransom kidnappings") than New York, Miami, Washington, you name it. Check this out from the LA Times in February, 2009:

More ransom kidnappings happen here than in any other town in America, according to local and federal law enforcement authorities. Most every victim and suspect is connected to the drug-smuggling world, usually tracing back to the western Mexican state of Sinaloa, Phoenix police report.

Arizona has become the new drug gateway into the United States. Roughly half of all marijuana seized along the U.S.-Mexico border was taken on the state's 370-mile border with Mexico.

One result is an epidemic of kidnapping that many residents are barely aware of. Indeed, most every other crime here is down. But police received 366 kidnapping-for-ransom reports last year, and 359 in 2007. Police estimate twice that number go unreported.

Most every other crime here is down. Most every victim and suspect is connected to the drug-smuggling world. What Phoenix has is an organized crime problem due to the war on drugs, not a "Oh my god the landscapers and burrito folders are busting into my house to haul away my kids for white slavery" sort of problem. Which isn't to deny that kidnapping isn't always and everywhere a problem. And how much suffering is encoded in the word most, which implies many fully innocent and unawares victims. But if Arizona and Phoenix want to get a handle on this specific sort of crime, the first step is addressing drug prohibition's perverse outcomes. When's the last time you heard of a Mexican gang trafficking in contraband Corona Light snatching people off the street?

More about Phoenix's kidnapping wave, one of the main impetuses behind Arizona's immigration law, which will accomplish little more than expanding police power in a way that even the chief of police doesn't want (see above):

Last month, crime analysts corrected the 2008 total the department shared with Congress and other federal authorities earlier in the year. The number was 368 when politicians used it earlier this year when requesting federal stimulus money to combat border-related violence. Phoenix recently revised the number to 359.

A handful of kidnappings were either classified as other crimes or considered false reports, police said.

For example, relatives of a woman who was arrested at a home in the Palomino neighborhood near 26th Street and Greenway Road told police she was led away by a group of unidentified gunmen. The men were actually agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement who had come to the home to arrest the woman on an immigration violation. Still, the report was filed as a kidnapping, detectives said.

That's from The Arizona Republic in January, 2010 and it's a pretty strong testament to the difficulty of getting reliable data on the issue under discussion, much less an authoritative ranking of The Top Ten U.S. Cities For Kidnapping, etc. And what about border violence? That's not rising, either.

If Arizonans want to stop the violence, their best bet is to change drug laws, not immigration laws. Which is something activists there have tried to do for decades, including winning a slam-dunk medicalization ballot initiative in 1996 that was later overturned on a technicality.