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Police shut down downtown Phoenix street to investigate suspicious package

[Source: ABC15]

A downtown Phoenix street was shut down for several hours Monday night as police investigated a suspicious package found in the area.

Officers responded to the scene near 1st Avenue and Van Buren Street around 8:30 p.m. after reports that a large box was found sitting on Van Buren. Officials say the box raised suspicions after it was discovered to have some type of wires coming from inside.

Video from Air15 showed police vehicles blocking Van Buren from 1st to 3rd Avenue. Police reportedly evacuated surrounding businesses as a precaution.

Officials say a bomb squad unit at the scene investigated and detonated the device late Monday.

No injuries were reported.

The box was reportedly found in an alleyway behind Valley Metro headquarters. Phoenix police confirm they are looking into the possibility the scare may be connected to a current transit dispute.

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Phoenix City Council approves budget plan, 7-2

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Despite opposition from two members, the Phoenix City Council on Tuesday approved a budget plan that eliminates 520 jobs and requires $64 million in cuts to parks, public transit, after-school programs, and the arts.  But it contains none of the severe cuts to public safety, senior centers, and libraries that were proposed in late January.  Under the spending plan, no sworn police officers or firefighters will be laid off, and no senior centers, libraries, large community centers, or softball fields will be closed.  City officials clarified that fewer than 50 full-time employees would actually be laid off, due to vacancies, retirements, and efforts to transfer police officers and other workers into other departments.

The general-fund budget adopted Tuesday was drastically different from the initial proposal that called for cutting $140 million in services and axing 1,300 jobs, including pink slips for hundreds of police officers and firefighters.  City leaders managed to save city jobs and services primarily by imposing a sales tax on groceries, using unspent money in a public-safety fund, and getting labor unions to agree to a 3.2 percent concession in wages and benefits.  “Hundreds of people’s jobs will be saved because of the measures we have taken here,” City Manager David Cavazos said.

Annual budgets in Phoenix typically are approved on a unanimous vote, but Council members Peggy Neely and Sal DiCiccio voted against the budget and said this plan contained elements that lacked transparency and were impossible to support.  They pointed to Mayor Phil Gordon’s move last month to push through a 2 percent food tax without adequate public input.  And they blasted a plan by budget officials to shift more than 20 police officers into the Water, Aviation, and Transit departments to save their jobs, a move that law enforcement and management argued would boost security at water plants, the airport, and on light rail.  “I’m very concerned with how we built this,” Neely said during a seven-hour meeting at the Orpheum Theatre.

Gordon and six other council members supported the budget, which runs through June 2011.  The cuts take effect April 5.  They come just a year after the council slashed a record $156 million from the roughly $1 billion general-fund budget.  Among the most severe reductions this time:

  • The city’s after-school program will close at 25 of 55 sites during the school year and the summer program will shut down completely.
  • The city also will stop funding the Shemer Art Center and Museum and Arizona Horse Lovers Park, which could be operated by private groups.
  • Visitor centers at North Mountain, South Mountain, and Rio Salado parks will be shuttered.
  • Bus service along several routes will be reduced by 15 percent and the DASH Downtown Loop bus will be eliminated.
  • Riders also will have to wait longer for light rail during peak hours, though late-night weekend service will be preserved.
  • Some departments will be consolidated, including the City Clerk’s Office and Information Technology.
  • And cuts will claim two top officials in the City Manager’s Office, as well as positions in the mayor and council offices.

In recent weeks, 4,500 residents attended 15 public hearings on the budget. About 500 sent e-mails or made phone calls to the city. Many said that without preserving the arts, culture and recreation in the city, Phoenix would fall into urban decay.  “What I heard is that we are a city that is more than just a police force.  I also heard that we simply cannot be a city-police state,” said Councilman Tom Simplot, who attended a handful of the hearings.  “This budget reflects that to be the best we can, we need our youth centers, our libraries, our art centers.”

Added library advocate Dan Cook: “I am a retired senior citizen and my wife and I live on a fixed income, but I am willing to pay that tax to keep our city vital and alive.”  A handful of African-American community leaders made one final plea to restore year-round funding for the decades-old South Phoenix Youth Center. Food-tax revenue will keep it open only during summers.  “You’re closing the community out by closing these centers,” said longtime Valley broadcaster Art Mobley.

Downtown Voices statement on City of Phoenix 2010-11 budget

The Downtown Voices Coalition Steering Committee, in a unanimous vote with one abstention, supports the City of Phoenix Fiscal Year 2010-11 budget proposal outlined by the Citizens for Phoenix coalition, namely:

  • Acceptance of $49 million in proposed city budget cuts, but rejection of $90 million in cuts that will affect street level police and fire service, as well as cuts that would abandon Phoenix’s most vulnerable residents.
  • Acceptance of the Mayor and City Council approved two percent food tax, with the provisio that the tax sunset in two years and not the five years that was passed.
  • Insistence that 100 percent of the anticipated $62 million in food tax revenue go into the city’s General Fund and be distributed to Public Safety, Human Services, Parks and Recreation, and Arts and Culture, in direct proportion to their share of the original 2009-10 budget.
  • Expectation that the remaining $27 million in revenue needed to balance the budget be raised in the following combination of ways: increase fees for permits and services where possible; gain union and non-union employee concessions; and eliminate remaining fat in the budget.
  • Insistence of an independent audit of the budget, systems, and processes of all city departments by a national audit firm that must report back to the Mayor, City Council, and citizenry within the first 12 months, so its recommendations can be implemented as quickly as possible, but no later than the second 12-month period so the two year food tax will not have been in vain.

Steve Weiss, Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition

Department cuts could hurt Phoenix anti-graffiti efforts

[Source: Michael Clancy, Arizona Republic] — Graffiti could gain a foothold in Phoenix because of several proposed budget cuts.  Cuts in four departments could affect the city’s ability to respond to graffiti, often seen as a precursor to worse crime.  Neighborhood Services, Arts & Culture, Parks and Recreation, and Police have identified potential budget cuts that affect graffiti control.   “These are all quality of life issues that impact neighborhoods and the public,” said Erynn Crowley, deputy director of the Neighborhood Services Department.

In Neighborhood Services, three inspectors who spend time making sure stores have graffiti supplies locked up could lose their jobs.  The employees also check adult-business licenses, enforce mobile- and street-vending rules, and administer laws at special events.  The department now will react to complaints instead of actively checking for violations.  Savings are estimated at $421,000 this year and next.

In Arts, the public-art preservation program could be reduced.  One of its functions is to clean up graffiti and vandalism on public-art pieces.  The program, if the cuts are ultimately approved, would be reduced to half the size it was two years ago.  The cuts would total $60,000.

In Parks, ending a softball program would result in the elimination of maintenance staff in northwest and northeast Phoenix.  If the program ends in July, as proposed, the maintenance cuts will result in longer intervals for graffiti removal, among other items.  Savings are pegged at $179,000.

Finally, the Police Department is proposing the elimination of the bias crimes/graffiti squad. The squad investigates crimes related to prejudice and graffiti, which often is the result of gangs marking their territory. Savings in the department would total $710,000.

Altogether, the cuts would target 15 jobs and save $1.4 million.   [Note: Read the full article at Department cuts could hurt Phoenix anti-graffiti efforts.]

As Phoenix faces “economic emergency,” mayor floats idea of temporary tax hike

home_balloons[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Saying Phoenix is facing an “economic emergency,” Mayor Phil Gordon this week floated the idea of a temporary sales-tax increase to keep already diminished services from being cut further.  Phoenix recently raised fees and rates for things such as parking meters and trash pickup. But Gordon’s comments, during a City Council meeting, marked the first mention of a sales-tax hike — or “emergency economic surcharge” — that the council could approve to stave off service cuts.

“It may take that to get us through the economic crisis,” Gordon told fellow council members and staffers.  “We have to ask residents: Do they want these draconian cuts?  Do they want to be understaffed in fire and police?  I, for one, think our residents would want to continue the way of life in this city.”  [Note: Read full article at As Phoenix faces “economic emergency,” mayor floats idea of temporary tax hike.]

Church program seen as key to safer South Phoenix

[Source: Michael Ferraresi, Arizona Republic] — Sweating in the summer heat, volunteers moved boxes of donated food at the Bridge Church as others helped south Phoenix residents find clothes, jobs and government benefits.  Meanwhile, police officers watched briefly over the small crowd at the worship hall, which doubles as a human-services community center to serve more than 30 families a day in an area long stigmatized by gang violence.

Through partnerships with police and city leaders, the Bridge became a prototype for the renewal of south Phoenix.  It was the first of the area’s 90 churches to join the Neighborhood Roots System.  Police credited the increased faith-based involvement for a 39 percent drop in area homicides, as well as other crimes, since 2008.  Police have saturated south Phoenix with crime-suppression efforts in the past few years.  Now, officers and neighborhood activists are working to sustain the relationships they established years ago.  “When law enforcement is involved, I think businesses look at that as a positive,” said Jon Katov, CEO of non-profit Open Table Inc.  Katov said he was inspired to focus on south Phoenix after attending a service at a community church.

The Bridge is open 20 hours a week in an area where nearly 17,000 people live in poverty.  Katov said 20 other south Phoenix churches have already begun mimicking the Bridge.  He pointed to a small room filled with donated computers.  “Here, you’re looking at a job center inside a working church,” Katov said.  “To me, it’s a breakthrough.”

Churches have helped south Phoenix rebound from the wave of violent crime and gang-related homicides it suffered two years ago.  [Note: Read the full article at Church program seen as key to safer south Phoenix]

Downtown Phoenix gallery raided on First Friday for allegedly selling booze illegally

RAID 1

Phoenix police officers stand in front of UM Gallery on Friday evening (photo: Jonathan McNamara, Phoenix New Times)

[Source: Benjamin Leatherman, Phoenix New Times] — Things got a little crazier than usual during First Friday in downtown Phoenix this past weekend after Phoenix police officers raided UM Gallery (the Fifth Street art space run by local hip-hop promoters Universatile Music) on charges of serving beer and wine without a permit.  The incident started just after 10 p.m. when about a half-dozen officers shut down the gallery’s First Friday celebration, pulling the plug on a few DJs spinning hip-hop music outside on the porch in the process. The cops then detained five members of the UM posse that were inside, including promoter Reuben Martinez, artist Jules Demetrius (who’s artwork was on display), and Dusty Hickman (who also goes by the DJ handle Pickster One).

Martinez later told me that they were serving cans of PBR and cups of Charles Shaw wine (a.k.a. “Two Buck Chuck”) to patrons in exchange for a “recommended donation” to help support the gallery.  Hence, he claims that they weren’t in violation of state liquor laws.  The cops obviously disagreed, as Martinez, Demetrius, and three others were cited for selling booze without a permit (which is a Class 2 misdemeanor).  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Criminals targeted in U.S. “kidnap capital”

[Source: Tim Gaynor, Reuters, October 8, 2008] — The criminal underworld in the sun-baked Arizona capital of Phoenix has long enjoyed the hot money profits from illicit smuggling of drugs and people over the border from Mexico.  But now its members are living in fear as they are stalked by kidnappers after their proceeds, authorities say.

Police in the desert city say specialized kidnap rings are snatching suspected criminals and their families from their homes, running them off the roads and even grabbing them at shopping malls in a spiraling spate of abductions.  “Phoenix is ground zero for illegal narcotics smuggling and illegal human smuggling in the United States,” said Phil Roberts, a Phoenix Police Department detective.  “There’s a lot of illegal cash out there in the valley, and a lot of people want to get their hands on it.”

Last year alone, Phoenix police reported 357 extortion-related abductions — up by nearly half from 2005 — targeting individuals with ties to Mexican smuggling rings.  In addition, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement police have also recorded cases of kidnappers snatching illegal immigrant day laborers off the street for ransom.  Agents have also recorded a growing number of “virtual kidnappings,” in which abductors cold-call an immigrant’s family falsely claiming that they are holding them hostage.  The tactic is used frequently Mexico, where abduction is a lucrative and sophisticated industry.   [Note: To read the full article, click here. To read February 12, 2009 Los Angeles Times article, click here.]

Phoenix city budget crisis increases interest in volunteerism

[Source: Cathryn Creno, Arizona Republic] — The City of Phoenix now has a Web page where people can search for ways to volunteers at city parks, social service programs, libraries, and more.  The site was launched Monday in response from calls from citizens wanting to volunteer time to programs in the wake of the city budget crisis, said Deborah Dillon, the city’s education program director.  The opportunities listed include a program to guide visitors at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, a graffiti cleanup program, the Phoenix Police reserves, and the volunteer gardeners at parks, including the Japanese Friendship Garden in downtown Phoenix.  Training typically is provided to most city volunteers.

Dillon said the city is still in the process of trimming programs to balance an approximate $270 budget deficit and is not sure where the biggest needs are yet.  And, “because we haven’t had a central place for volunteers to register their interest, I don’t know the answers to how many new volunteers have come forward,” she said.  “Our first step was to put together a better website so it would be easier for them to find out volunteer opportunities.”

Phoenix neighborhoods can get anti-crime grants

[Source: Maria Baier, Phoenix City Council] — Neighborhoods registered as a Phoenix Police Block Watch or with the Neighborhood Services Department can get money to prevent crime. Neighborhood Block Watch grants range from less than $1,000 to $10,000 each. The grants fund new or existing programs that have an anti-crime component or safety program. The oversight committee will review applications and give an estimated $1.2 million to eligible neighborhoods. For information, contact the city at 602-262-6543 or by visit their website. Applications are due electronically by 4 p.m. on Friday, February 6, 2009.