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Violent crime down in Mesa due to data-driven approach

The Violent Crimes Program involves officers from every division to work as a team for two weeks and target certain areas where most crime is reported.

MESA, Ariz. — Zoyla Hernandez lives in a hot spot for crime in Mesa. 

“At night I hear gunshots," she told 12 News in Spanish. "Then right after, the police and then an ambulance."

She's not alone, but a new program from the Mesa Police Department is showing some positive results as the city looks to combat these crime hot spots. 

In the first quarter of this year, overall crime, like thefts, slightly increased from last year in Mesa, but violent crimes decreased by nearly 14%, Central Patrol District Operations Lieutenant Dominique Sterlin said.

That's because the department has implemented a data-driven program that involves using officers from every division during a limited time period to combat hot spots.

The department combined patrol officers, detectives, gang and narcotics specialists, and street crimes into one team for two weeks as part of the Violent Crimes Program.

With the help of heat maps created by crime analysts with data from aggravated assaults, homicides, robbery, and other crimes, Mesa police said they took $2 million worth of fentanyl pills and 27 guns off the streets while arresting 191 people they said were involved in violent crimes.

“This is not about minor issues,” Sterlin said. “This is about people that have firearms, that are violent offenders, that are committing crimes against children, adults, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and we want to continue to work on that.”

The program was initially rolled out last summer for 15 weeks. Data analyzed between May and December of 2021 showed a decrease in violent crimes.

After being proven successful, Sterlin said the program was extended.

“We want to make sure that people have a nice place to live, so there may be data saying there are violent crimes there, we want to keep those people safe also,” he added.

Violent crimes rise from street-level drug dealing, the possession of illegal guns and outstanding warrants, Sterlin said, by tackling them directly where they are happening in the community, future violence can be prevented.

“If you’re committing crimes in Mesa and you’re a violent offender, we’re going to arrest you,” Sterlin said.

By following data on where crime is happening in the city, Sterlin said the department is policing out of trends and not just intuition.

Mesa Police Chief Ken Cost told City Council members during an April meeting the program had been successful because the department utilized officers from every division, that came together and shared intel, but because they also returned to old-type policing.

“We didn’t just do it by crime,” Cost said. “We had community meetings. Going to these areas to fight the crime, we brought the community to the end, from the beginning,”

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