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By Nathan Gonzalez
Arizona Republic

MESA, Ariz. - Despite a recent "surgical" attack on members of the East Valley's 22 identified gangs, Mesa Police Chief George Gascón said authorities will never eradicate the groups at the root of often costly and violent crime.
The chief made the comments Thursday after announcing that gang task force officers arrested 80 suspected gang members during a 10-day crackdown that began Oct. 15. In addition to Mesa, "Operation 'Can't Miss'" included detectives from Tempe, Scottsdale and Chandler with Maricopa County adult probation, juvenile probation and the juvenile division of the county attorney's office.
"Gang crime in the city of Mesa is down," Gascón said. "Are we going to eradicate gangs by making arrests? No. (But) what we as a society have to recognize is that we are not going to arrest ourselves out of the problem of gangs."
In five separate operations beginning in October 2007, gang officers made 673 arrests, according to task force figures. Because many of those involved in gangs are 16 to 21 years old, strong prevention and intervention programs in schools are needed to keep children out of gangs.
"For us to deal with gangs, we need a more comprehensive approach," Gascón said.
"Operation 'Can't Miss,'" carried out in the city's Dobson Division, netted 50 felony arrests of gang members suspected in drive-by shootings, residential burglaries, aggravated assaults and drug possessions, according to taskforce figures.
Another 30 misdemeanor arrests included those who provided false information to police, trespassed or had outstanding misdemeanor warrants. Police confiscated four handguns.
"Criminals do not carry guns to accessorize their clothing. They carry guns in order to further their criminal activity," Gascón said.
During the 10-day gang crackdown, authorities located two missing juveniles and contacted 66 gang members. Police carried out nine search warrants, six of which were done simultaneously against a known East Valley graffiti crew, said Sgt. Ruben Quezada, who heads the taskforce.
The warrants followed an increase in graffiti in the Dobson Division by 11 identified gang members earlier this year. The graffiti caused more than $6,000 per month in damage to city property and thousands more in personal property damage in the west Mesa district, Quezada said.
"If this crime goes unnoticed or unrepaired, further crimes happen," he said. Gangs are known to use graffiti to communicate and highlight their status in the community.
Taskforce detectives also conducted investigations into two related shootings.
The first occurred at a house party in east Mesa's Superstition District, where someone shouted a statement about a gang before shots rang out, Quezada said. While police investigated that shooting, a second one occurred in the Red Mountain District of central Mesa. Four people have since been arrested in both incidents.
Police also investigated a suspected gang-related arson at an apartment complex near Eighth Avenue and Alma School Road. Investigators later learned the suspect and victim have gang ties.
"Time and time again, these task forces have shown to be very effective in combating gang crime," said Quezada, who credited the success of the operation to working with neighboring departments.
Partnering and pooling resources with other agencies makes since, especially since cities throughout the Valley are struggling with shrinking budgets, Gascón said.
"(We) are taking the limited resources and applying it to where we know that we can get the most out for the money we have available," Gascón said. "We are being surgical with that we do. Some of these folks are really bad people."

Wire Service
 
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