Got'em

GITEM, the state's $12 million antigang task force, storms Casa Grande and shoots a smalltime scofflaw in the back

But do hit-and-run enforcement tactics have any appreciable impact on gang crime? Sheriff Reyes, who lives in Casa Grande, says they do. "I think there's been a drop in the number of drive-by shootings, and I think the work we did with GITEM had a lot to do with that," says Reyes.

If Reyes believes that, though, he hasn't been reading his newspaper. The Dispatch's Monday police blotter frequently chronicles weekend gang gunplay. Last month, rival gangs exchanged more than 100 gunshots in an industrial area on Casa Grande's west side; miraculously, no one was hit.

Gonzales says he has not conducted a statistical review of the Casa Grande operation, and, in any case, the real value of a show of force is to send a message.

"Guns, booze and drugs--those are the three major areas of gang crime," he says. "If we stop a carload of kids for a traffic violation and find a gun, or if we break up a party where a bunch of kids are drinking, it sends the message that if you break the law, you will go to jail."

Thirty-seven adults were cited that weekend for liquor violations. Another 23 juveniles got citations, mostly for breaking curfew and underage drinking. Three were picked up for violating probation, the rest for disorderly conduct or vandalism. Officers also seized eight concealed weapons during the sweep, and cited 26 people for possessing minor amounts of drugs, or drug paraphernalia.

Since its inception, the task force claims to have taken 350 guns off Arizona streets. Its officers have written almost 7,000 traffic tickets and arrested more than 5,000 adults and 2,200 juveniles.

This has earned the task force its share of admirers. In Phoenix, GITEM and Phoenix police have launched three intensive sweeps through the Westwood neighborhood, an area bounded by 19th Avenue, I-17, and Camelback and Indian School roads. With more than 121 apartment complexes and 10,000 people, it is among the city's most densely populated areas.

Donna Neill, president of Westwood's neighborhood association, calls GITEM a "lifeline."

"My philosophy is if you don't like the police presence, there's probably a pretty darn good reason," Neill, a retiree, says.

Statewide, GITEM has "contacted" more than 18,000 people, many of them in the fashion of Michael and Christian Vasquez.

Their mother, Dora Vasquez, remains skeptical.
"I'm not trying to deny that there is a problem," says Vasquez, who, as director of a nonprofit group that helps troubled kids, is familiar with the dynamics of gangs in the area. "I just think it needs to be made clear that there have got to be other ways to deal with it.

"The main thing this operation succeeded in doing was making a whole lot of people angry at the police."

GITEM's work in Casa Grande has not been limited to weekend blitzes. GITEM has helped Casa Grande police out of several manpower pinches. Once, a squad of GITEM officers stood by to help police defuse tensions at the high school after a gang-related brawl. Another time, a GITEM detachment helped local cops clean out a drug-infested bar that had been operating without a liquor license.

Gonzales points out that his officers conduct ongoing operations with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, which has contributed three of its officers to GITEM.

During such a joint operation on Friday, June 2, 1995, Thomas Glen Campbell crossed GITEM's path.

Glen Campbell has a thick build and the kind of blunt features and heavy brow that leads at least one wise guy in Pinal County's criminal-justice system to liken him to a cave man. He wears his dark red hair in a thick braid down the center of his back.

Until he was transferred to a state prison system six months ago, Campbell could be found in the Pinal County Jail in Florence, where he was interviewed for this story.

More often than not, his terse answers follow long pauses that his attorney, Tom Larson, attribute in part to painkillers Campbell has taken since getting shot.

Campbell admits that running from the law while clutching a knife was a very stupid thing to do.

"I guess I screwed up," he says.
When asked whether he lunged at a GITEM officer, though, Campbell perks right up.

"You tell me something," he says. "How could I lunge at some cop and still get shot in the back?"

He lifts his orange jail-issue shirt to reveal a purplish scar near his left side. Next, he turns around to show a similar, healed-over scar about an inch to the right of his spine--the point where a .45-caliber slug tore into his back before passing through his abdomen and into the night.

That the bullet missed his spine and vital organs may be the closest Glen Campbell has ever come to good fortune.

Growing up in Casa Grande, his consuming passion consisted of greasing his knuckles on dirt bikes, which he would ride through the desert near his home.

"He'd be out in the garage working on some motorcycle all night long," says his mother, Patricia Valdez, who raised Glen and his brother single-handedly while eking out a living as a clerk for the state Department of Economic Security. "I'd say, 'When you comin' to bed?' He'd say, 'I'm almost finished.'"

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