Crackdown

After years of neglect, a Maryvale neighborhood and the Phoenix police evict the West Side City Crips

The five who have been arraigned face charges ranging from sale of narcotic drugs to conspiracy/assisting in a criminal syndicate to weapons charges.

Scott Masino was on hand for the bust, but no one saw him. His superiors wouldn't let him out of the van, fearing that someone would try to take revenge on dumb old Officer Scott.

Masino is quick to downplay his role.
"I ID'd these guys, yeah, but the drug enforcement and gang guys did this," he maintains. "It wasn't just Lieutenant Gentis and me. We'd know who they were, sure, but they'd still be here if somebody hadn't come in and arrested them."

And it wasn't just the arrests, Masino says. City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services stepped up its presence in the Woodmar area and gave grant money for improvements. Gentis worked with Paul Hamby and the fire department and the city to build a gate that would close down Crack Alley and meet zoning and fire regulations. The residents cooperated with the police despite the risk that the West Side City Crips would retaliate against them.

Gentis gives Masino much of the credit, however.
"Scott just refused to give up. He had it in his heart," Gentis says, tapping his Kevlar vest above the sternum.

The Woodmar IV complex at 43rd Avenue and Thomas really only comes alive at night: Kids run around the playground and battered lawns, families gather outside the doors of their apartments and the sound of guitars competes with the heavy thump of bass from stereos.

The shotgun blasts in the walls are filled in with putty. White paint covers the graffiti. In one condo, kids hide their stuffed animals in a floor safe where dealers used to stash drugs and money. A police office has been established in what used to be a vacant apartment. Residents can even use the pool.

"There are people swimming here now," Linda Tye says. "I didn't even know people swam around here before."

Patti Hussey and the owners of Woodmar have all written letters thanking and commending the Phoenix police.

"One of the police officers called me a while ago," Hussey says. "He said, 'Patti, you're not going to believe it: There are kids playing ball in Crack Alley!'"

The place is not yet perfect, not by a long shot. The police are still wary when they patrol the grounds. Hussey still takes her valuables out of her car and locks up the steering wheel with The Club. Cockroaches roam the alleys. There are still 911 calls.

There are some unexpected problems, too. People have embraced community policing "so much that they think we can do anything, and we can't," Gentis says. "We'll get calls from people who want us to go in and kick their neighbor's door down because he's playing his stereo too loud." Gentis has also heard complaints about "Block Watch Nazis" always carping about the rules.

Gentis is still wary. "It's tough, and I'm just as nervous today as I was six months ago because I don't want it to go back that way," he says.

But nobody deals drugs in Crack Alley anymore. The craps games are gone. The number of calls has dropped dramatically.

Most people are elated at how Woodmar has changed.
"Credit the Phoenix Police Department. Whatever they [the police] did, it worked," says Glen Woods, Linda Lloyd's boyfriend. "You couldn't walk through here without all these people coming up to you buying or selling. They are on the job this time. It is just amazing."

Lloyd adds, "There was one time we were really considering leaving. We were getting tired of laying on the floor. . . . We thought the police were just going to make an appearance and they wouldn't do anything, but they did. They really did."

Joyce Hamby: "I was ready to believe there were no good policemen left anymore. We called and called and called for someone to do something, and nothing got done. And then we met Scott and Lieutenant Gentis."

"Scott took it like a personal crusade," her husband adds. "This was something he was going to get done."

Other people at Woodmar sound a similar note: They call "Officer Scott" and "Officer Chris" their heroes.

Woodmar "has been successful because the people feel more secure," says Jim Rizer, the chief of the County Attorney's Repeat Offender and Gang Bureau. "We've made an impact on the population that lives there. That's why the police do these things--to show the law-abiding citizens we're out there and doing something for them."

Not everyone is overjoyed, though. Some younger residents feel like they've given up some of their freedom because of the police presence.

Andrea Portee, a 24-year-old resident of Pine Ridge for the past nine months, says she gets tired, sometimes, of being treated like a suspect.

"You get harassed a lot more," she says. "I'm over 21. I live here. I should be able to walk to Circle K past midnight without anyone asking me where I'm going."

Her boyfriend, Eric Davis, also worries that the new rules might have gone too far. He keeps a gun in his apartment for protection, he says, and he's not a gang-banger. But if management finds a gun in his apartment, he'll be evicted. "When I moved here, it was crazy. People would bust into your house, they wouldn't even care," he says.

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