9OYS Crime Watch: How safe is Douglas?

9OYS Crime Watch: How safe is Douglas?

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reported by:  Jessica Chapin

DOUGLAS, Ariz. (KGUN9- TV) - It's a city that carries some heavy challenges when it comes to crime, and it's all about location.

"We get a lot of illegal alien activity as well as other border communities," said Douglas Police Department officer Marcus Gonzalez, "but I think there's more people crossing through Douglas than anywhere else in the country."

Gonzalez says despite the border issues, crime in the city limits is declining.

                                      2008                2009                2010

Calls for Service:           19,785            22,173              10,478

Burglary:                        153                  89                      29

Larceny:                         534                477                      207

Criminal Damage:           504               474                       281

Gonzalez says the property crimes and drug activity caused by smugglers is the hardest to catch.  He estimates only about 30 to 40 percent of crimes in Douglas actually result in jail time. 

"Because they operate on the South side of the border," he said, "We can't infiltrate those organizations to get some intel and that's kind of the part where we're pretty much stuck."

During a routine investigation, police officers usually try to bring down organized crime or drugs from the top down, focusing on those in control of the organization.  It's a problem that brings crime-solving in Douglas to a screeching halt.  Gonzalez says the Mexican authorities have cooperated on bringing big name criminals across the border, but he says when it comes to the drug rings, the focus of local authorities is elsewhere.

That's why he says they rely on Border Patrol to step up forces.  The 241-mile long Tucson Sector along the border includes Douglas.  There, Border Patrol have doubled their agents from 15 hundred to 33 hundred in the past 10 years.

In addition, Operation Stone Garden began in 2008.  It allows the government to pay for Douglas police officers to have overtime, so they can continue patrols and work with border agents.  In 2009, Douglas was claimed the most successful Stone Garden operation initiatives in the country.  Police helped Border Patrol take in the following:

Misdemeanor arrests       Felony arrests    Stolen cars    Illegal Aliens     Marijuana
                   622                         56                    98                 2,618       11,277lbs

But for some residents, it's not enough.  Just 7 months ago, Robert Krentz, a rancher outside of Douglas was killed in his home by suspected smugglers.  It's a tragedy that registers with many Douglas residents, and it's raised awareness and enforcement significantly.

"We knew the Krentz's and everybody out there, and yes you can look out your door and see the lines of them with backpacks going across," said Chris Marsillo about his experience with border-crossers, "We've actually had people at gunpoint trying to break into our house."

Marsillo says he thinks more can be done.  9 On Your Side took those concerns to Border Patrol spokesperson David Jimarez.

"How do you respond to people who say there's not enough border patrol presence in Douglas?" asked 9 On Your Side reporter Jessica Chapin. 

"The border patrol  has dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources towards the border," said Jimarez, "that includes your technology, your infrastructure and personnel."

Jimarez says border crossing in Arizona has declined 40 percent in the past 10 years.  He also hopes a new program called "Se Busca" will help catch wanted smugglers.  They have released pictures of 30 suspects to Douglas residents.  Three weeks in, two have been arrested.

"Now, their faces are known and we want them to know that their faces are known," said Jimarez.

While life on the border has it's challenges, many who live there say it's safer than the country thinks.  Border Patrol and Douglas police hope those residents can help crime rates on both sides of the fence.