Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), October 12, 2007
Some neighbors cheered and others watched fearfully.
As more than 100 law officers swept down on urban-style gangs in rural Pinal County on Thursday, people who have felt besieged by a year of shootings, stabbings and robberies saw glimmers of relief.
The story lines of Casa Grande, Coolidge and Eloy are often about growth. No one talks of Crips and Bloods, gunbattles and neighbors cowering in their homes as gang signs and drug deals sprout next door. advertisement
But that is the plague in low-income pockets of these small cities lying in the path of Phoenix’s residential march toward Tucson.
Detective Edward McNeill of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Thursday’s crackdown was prompted by a frenzy of gang violence that resulted in five murders, 27 drive-by shootings, 19 people wounded by gunfire and two stabbings since September of 2006.
Officers rounded up 18 people on charges of narcotics and weapons violations, robbery and other charges during a search of nine residences of gang suspects. The sweep, launched minutes after sunrise, included officers from nearly a dozen agencies supported by armored vehicles and air reconnaissance.
An estimated 60 members and associates from the Crips and Bloods operate in the three cities. McNeill said most of the gangsters are not interlopers from California or Phoenix but members of entrenched local crime families. In some cases, the gang affiliation was picked up in prison or through relatives who served time.
Many residents felt the same way and rejoiced during Thursday’s raid. At one housing tract, neighbors came outside to celebrate as officers in body armor bashed in a door and removed suspects.
At another location, a woman who lives near a house that was raided said families in the area have lived in terror for months. The mother of two young children declined to give her name for fear of retribution.
Bloods and Crips are not common to rural Arizona, but McNeill said they are found in small-town pockets throughout Pinal County. The groups in Casa Grande, Eloy and Coolidge are believed to have drug operations stretching to the Valley, he added, and their war involves narcotics turf as well as colors.
“I would say the people we’re targeting are responsible for the majority of drug trafficking in these communities,” he said.
A man who lives near one suspect’s home said he and his wife called police many times asking for a crackdown to stop gangsters from dealing drugs and driving recklessly down streets with guns visible.
“It’s pretty easy to figure out (who they are) when they’re walking around in red all the time,” he said.
“On a good day, you’ve got 30 cars going in there,” the man’s wife added. “Nobody has that many friends. We were worried about our kids.”
‘Enough was enough’
The raids were part of an enforcement campaign, known as Operation Enough Is Enough, that began months ago. McNeill described the suspects as heavily armed, preferring AK-47s and semiautomatic pistols. One member, captured earlier, was wearing body armor. Although gangsters usually target one another, McNeill said, civilians have been injured and their homes damaged in shootings.
McNeill said the Bloods-Crips rivalry in Casa Grande turned lethal on Sept. 14, 2006, with the murder of a gang suspect. Shootings increased over the next few months, prompting authorities to move in with high-profile patrols.