Where do Phoenix-area homicides cluster? Here’s where
8 killings in just over a mile, and other facts: A closer look at Maricopa County’s spike in homicides in 2016
Megan Cassidy , The Republic | azcentral.com
Murders rise sharply in Phoenix; most deaths tied to gunshot wounds.
A man lost his life last year in a house next door to Genevie Boquez’s Maryvale home. John Csupick, a quiet man who liked to talk mechanics with Boquez’s husband, reportedly was beaten to death by his roommate with a metal pole.
In 2016, seven other homicides occurred within about a mile of where Csupick died that March.
A swath of deadly violence in the West Valley snakes from Interstate 10 north to Bethany Home Road, largely between 51st and 67th avenues. Homicides concentrated here in 2016, contributing to spikes in the number of Phoenix and Glendale murders compared with 2015.
It’s not unusual to hear gunshots a few blocks away, Boquez said. In one instance, she could have sworn it was a machine gun.
“We’ve thought the neighborhood has really changed a lot,” Boquez told a Republic reporter on her doorstep, her face obscured through a white security door.
Older neighbors have fled in recent years, she said, replaced by a younger, more “rowdy” demographic, she said.
“We’ve lost a lot of friends that way,” she said.
Phoenix, and to a smaller degree Glendale, saw jumps in homicides in 2016 after years of decline. Phoenix counted 149, a 32 percent increase over the previous year’s 113 (the lowest since 1988) and the highest number of deaths since 2008. Glendale recorded 23 homicides in 2016, the highest since 2011 and up from 16 in 2015.
Around the corner and up the street from Csupick’s house is where Diego Verdugo Sanchez was slain in April.
Police attribute Sanchez’s death to the “serial street shooter” — a yet-to-be identified man believed to have killed seven people in 2016. Six of his victims were slain in the Maryvale area.
MOBILE USERS: See our interactive map of homicides
There is no apparent motive for the serial shooter, and tagging the dozens of other West Valley murders to a trend can prove just as arduous.
For the killings near Csupick’s home, the only quantifiable link is proximity.
Three teenagers at a house party near 63rd and Missouri avenues were gunned down by a drive-by shooter in January 2016.
The same month Csupick died, the body of Jessica Rubacalba was found along with that of her husband, Adan Chavez, at a home near 54th Avenue and Camelback Road. Police believe Chavez shot Rubacalba before turning the gun on himself.
In October, Ronald Ferro, 39, was fatally stabbed by an acquaintance near 63rd and Camelback avenues.
2016: Uptick in Phoenix homicides
To date, 261 deaths in Maricopa County in 2016 have been classified as homicides by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The medical examiner defines a homicide as a death intentionally inflicted by another person. This definition is different than that used by police agencies, which often omit officer-involved shootings and justifiable homicides in their data.
The victims were overwhelmingly male and, in most cases, died of gunshot wounds. They were mostly young — in their 20s and 30s — and concentrated more on Phoenix’s west side than any other area.
These, of course, are sweeping generalities, based on Medical Examiner’s Office reports, police agencies’ materials and other information gathered by Arizona Republic reporters.
But for years, Phoenix’s west side has been notorious for generating more instances of crime than any other region of the city.
In 2016 there were at least 24 homicides committed in the roughly eight square miles between Interstate 10 and Bethany Home Road and 51st and 67th avenues. There were six counted in the eight square miles just to the west of that grid, and 10 homicides in the eight square miles to the east.
Asked why homicides seem to concentrate in the city’s west, Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Howard said, “It’s not an easy answer because each one is so individual. But I do think we will see that many homicides occur in the course of other criminal activity.”
Police analysts and other researchers say while there’s no singular root for criminality, high-crime zones across the country share familiar symptoms of poverty, population density and scant social services.
Upticks in homicides in Phoenix and Glendale follow a national trend. For reasons that continue to puzzle social scientists, several large cities in the U.S. spiked in homicide numbers in 2015 after two decades on the downtrend. While troubling, the figures are still dwarfed by the peaks of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Criminologists have pointed to a variety of reasons to explain the recent growing rates but stop short of blaming a single variable. Theories include a nationwide heroin epidemic, an abundance of guns and the “Ferguson effect” — the notion that the murder rate has gone up because police officers have chosen less-vigorous enforcement to avoid creating any viral controversy.
Charles Katz, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, said it’s too early to pin the last year’s spike on one cause.
“I don’t think there’s any clear trend in one way or another for anybody to be able to articulate that anything unique is taking place,” he said. “It really could be a natural flux that’s taking place for a variety of reasons.”
“I don’t think there’s any clear trend in one way or another for anybody to be able to articulate that anything unique is taking place. It really could be a natural flux that’s taking place for a variety of reasons.”
Katz said homicide rates in most Arizona cities have been relatively stable over the past five years and noted how Phoenix’s increase was boosted by a spate of seemingly random, multivictim attacks. While tragic, such homicides are rarely indicative of a larger trend, Katz said.
Aside from the serial shooter’s seven homicides, there was the February 2016 case of Alex Buckner, who gunned down his mother, father and two sisters before setting the house on fire and being shot by police. In June, police arrested Octavia Rogers, who is accused of stabbing and cutting up her three young boys while no one else was at home.
For Glendale, a city where annual homicide numbers range from the mid-teens to low 20s, a single, multiple-victim murder can boost statistics by several percentage points.
Scott Waite, a sergeant for Glendale police, said these crimes often are outgrowths of domestic violence. He pointed to a triple shooting from June, where a woman and her lover were arrested on suspicion of shooting the woman’s husband, along with his mother and father. Only the father survived.
“Domestic violence is always an issue that we’re combating,” Waite said. “It’s a particularly hard issue, when you’re mixing love and emotion and close personal relationships.”
Non-profit attempts to keep kids away from crime
When after-school recreational programs closed in Glendale, a non-profit stepped in to fill the void. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral
Kids begin to trickle into the south Glendale recreational center around 3:30 p.m., just after school gets out. Some stop for Cheetos from one of the vendors outside, others bang on the soda vending-machine inside.
The ones who arrive first are younger, between 7 and 10. They generally are loud, rowdy and happy, giggling with each other as they wait to be handed a bagged lunch of a sandwich, apple and milk.
The children are members of ROOTS Recreational and Learning Center, an after-school program housed at a repurposed rec center at 64th and Missouri avenues. The center aims to keep kids occupied with homework, sports and healthy entertainment.
Emmanuel Allen, founder and president of the center, gives credence to the notion that a community’s investment in social services is key to thwarting criminal behavior.
Allen describes a yo-yo effect in the area’s crime rates, conversely tied to the availability of recreational activities for youth.
About six years ago, he said, budget cuts shuttered about four community recreation centers, which had offered kids and teenagers something to do after school.x`x
“Graffiti was up, gang violence was up, and this park was not a place that you would want to bring your children,” he said.
“When we came in and opened the facility, the gang activity started going down, marijuana usage started going down, and that’s due to us being able to have effective programming.”
Emmanuel Allen, founder and president of ROOTS Recreational and Learning Center
Allen and his wife, Belinda, reopened one of these centers as a non-profit, and he said there’s been a noticeable shift in the community, both as a resident and advisory board member for Glendale police.
“When we came in and opened the facility, the gang activity started going down, marijuana usage started going down, and that’s due to us being able to have effective programming,” he said. “The crime is still going on here, but we realize when the rec centers were closed, the crime was really heavy up in this community.”
Allen has taped a giant map of his community just above his office desk, highlighted by the businesses and apartment complexes he calls “cancers” of the neighborhood. These are his targets now, Allen said, adding that he and other community leaders are trying to convince business owners here to join in the anti-crime efforts.
Other anti-blight initiatives in the West Valley are gaining traction as well. Grand Canyon University has led a community-wide effort to rehabilitate the area surrounding its campus near 33rd Avenue and Camelback Road, known as the “Canyon Corridor.” The school and Phoenix partnered in a sweeping crime-suppression project and to date say they have lowered crime rates by 30 percent.
Are community efforts enough?
Phoenix City Council member Daniel Valenzuela’s District 5 encompasses much of the Maryvale area.
In an statement emailed to The Republic, Valenzuela’s staff noted that the councilman had raised his children in Maryvale and that the office “makes an effort to always ensure public safety is the number one priority.”
The statement pointed to community outreach programs such as #OurMaryvale, an initiative launched last summer, focusing on public safety, economic development and neighborhood revitalization. Valenzuela’s representatives said his office had a presence in every school in Maryvale and, so far in 2017, they have created two Maryvale neighborhood associations officially registered with the city of Phoenix.
“Our office has a daily presence in Maryvale and we will continue to work diligently to ensure residents feel safe and that the Maryvale community continues to be a better place for all to live and work,” the statement said.
Jeff Hynes, a retired 32-year veteran of Phoenix police, said it’s going to take a major, collective action plan to reverse the trajectory in the area.
Hynes, who now works as a chairman for public safety sciences at Glendale Community College, said Phoenix police’s loss of manpower has forced the department into “reactionary mode.” Hynes specifically criticized the department’s recent decision to reassign detectives and community units back to street patrols.
“Right now, all we’re doing is putting our fingers in the dike,” he said. “The public perception, and that from the academic community, is that it will take five to 10 years to turn the tide that is in place right now, with the reduction of force, and the city’s lack of commitment to community-based policing.”
Hynes said a long-term solution for the area would require an investment from businesses, city departments, police and community members, much in the way that downtown Phoenix benefited from the expansion of Arizona State University in the mid 2000s.
Hynes cited the “broken windows” theory of policing — that focusing on quality-of-life crimes such as graffiti and vandalism will begin to stem more major crimes. The model, made famous by former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is largely credited for large-scale crime reductions in the mid 1990s.
“There’s no secret to crime reduction, to change the complexion of neighborhoods,” Hynes said. “If you do not have that proactive, long-term commitment, you’re going to be in that reactionary mode putting out fire after fire after fire.”
Special report: Tracking 2016 homicides
The Republic and azcentral.com are publishing maps and databases of homicides in Maricopa County in an effort to provide a single tool that delivers, in a timely manner, as much information as possible on this most serious of crimes. The information was collected from both the Medical Examiner’s Office and local police departments, which can define homicides differently.
Gathering the material was part of a yearlong effort by public safety reporter Megan Cassidy.
It is expected to be months before the Medical Examiner’s Office can definitively say how many deaths in Maricopa County in 2016 were homicides. The 2016 map will be updated as more information becomes available.
The homicide map is meant to provide a fuller picture of deadly crime, but it is not exhaustive.
We invite readers to contact The Arizona Republic with information that may be missing from this map or database.
A 2017 map tracking homicides as the year progresses will be published soon.
Maricopa County homicide database, 2016
Use the tool below to find homicides in your city.
Can’t see the database? Click here.