Wednesday, February 18, 2009

police battle wave of abductions

Arizona Republic | Phoenix police are aggressively trying to reduce the number of near-daily home invasions and kidnappings, which helped earn the city the title of "kidnap-for-ransom capital" of the U.S.

Generally characterized as drug-related violence driven by gangs ripping off competitors, many of the kidnapping cases assigned to the city's robbery detectives involved masked gunmen armed with high-powered assault rifles and bulletproof vests, emulating tactical strike-team maneuvers to force others to forfeit drugs or cash.

But other experts said the crimes are primarily the work of small-time dealers trying to take advantage of the large number of stash houses scattered throughout the Valley, which serve as part of a nationwide distribution center for drug organizations.

Incidents in which gangs of gunmen pose as police are common in Arizona, where the drug business is booming.

In 2005, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a "crisis" after a crime wave and again after another round of violence prompted a surge of border patrol agents in 2007. Drug dealers have waged violent battles over smuggling routes and territory as long as narcotics have been around, said Doug Coleman, a federal drug-enforcement agent in Phoenix, who sees the spike in kidnappings-for-ransom as a new twist on an old tactic.