Crackdown

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

Woodmar was the perfect new home for them.
"The gangs have learned that the best way to sell drugs is to take over one of these condominium complexes," Gentis says.

The police have been seeing this tactic more and more, Gentis says. Condo complexes are especially vulnerable to gang control, he explains, because they have a lot of what the gangs want: cover from the street, lots of places to stash drugs and money, and lots of nooks and crannies to elude the cops.

Many complexes on the west side of Phoenix also lack organization, Gentis adds. There are about 100 owners of the 150 condos at Woodmar. Only 5 percent of them live on the property. The remaining residences were rented out to whoever would take them. Most owners were unaware of what was happening at Woodmar, or they just didn't care.

Unlike an apartment complex, there was no central control. And the gangs capitalized on that. West Side City moved into the vacuum and became the authority.

Crack Alley was the center of their enterprise: a blocklong, full-time recreational pharmacy, helping addicts from all over the Valley drain the life from their bodies one hit at a time. The Crips took over the alley, which runs between Woodmar and the Pine Ridge Apartments, as a kind of drive-through for drugs. The alley was a clear shot from 43rd Avenue; traffic easily slid in and out. The alley was also their gambling parlor; there was always at least one craps game going.

The dealers did their walk-up business on the main sidewalk in the complex. The kids at Woodmar named it Crack Walk.

There was serious money to be made at Woodmar. A dealer at the townhomes could take in $200 to $700 a night.

"Dookie [the gang name of Andrew Blake] couldn't read or write, but he could count real well," Mendoza says. "He was saving up to buy a HUD home, he told us."

(Blake was in custody at the time of this writing and could not be reached for comment.)

At any hour of the day or night, there was someone waiting to feed the need: 30 to 50 dealers worked the area at a time. Residents remember not being able to pass by sidewalks clogged by pushers and their clients during the day; at night, they were kept awake by the constant sound of blaring stereos and traffic from the alley.

"There was a lot of competition; whoever got there first would get the sale. You'd have guys running up to buyers," Mendoza says. One dealer even pulled a gun on an undercover agent when he bought from another dealer, he remembers.

West Side City didn't like anyone else working their territory, and they staked their claims with violence.

Residents learned to live with the sound of nightly gunfire. The police answered repeated calls for help every day--2,670 total for the year, all in a half-mile square.

Last year's police stats in the Woodmar area qualify as a crime wave: three homicides, one sexual assault, 35 aggravated assaults, 22 robberies, 269 property crimes and 63 drug crimes.

The West Side City Crips didn't like the police any more than competition. They threatened any cops who came on the property. The message was clear: Keep out.

"They loved pushing the blues," Mendoza explains. "They don't respect the guy in the blue uniform. They would surround a patrol car to see if they could get the guys to leave. It was like a game to them, to see how far they could push the blues."

The harassment was constant. When police officers would go into the complex on a call, 15 to 20 Crips would surround them, sometimes heckling and jeering, other times just staring them down. And every cop who went to Woodmar knew the Crips were armed.

As a result of the threats and intimidation, there was a standing order at the Maryvale precinct that no cop was to go into Woodmar without at least two other officers.

The three-officer policy in Woodmar and Pine Ridge was standard practice off and on for the past decade, Gentis says. For the past three years, he says, it was in effect all the time.

About a year ago, Gentis faced the troubles at Woodmar firsthand. While driving through the complex in an unmarked car, he ran the plate of a drug buyer in Crack Alley. The car was stolen. Gentis took off down the alley after him. The dealers, who resented a cop scaring off a customer, began throwing rocks at Gentis as he drove past.

After that, Gentis went to his commander, and made his case for a full-time officer to fix Woodmar. "Our doors were being stormed, and I told my boss, if we just had enough time, we can get this done," he says.

So Gentis pulled Masino off the Maryvale bike squad, juggled his budget a bit, and made Masino the Special Assignment Officer for Woodmar.

In the phrasing of the police reports, Masino was "tasked with attempting to solve the problem at hand."

"The patrol guys didn't have the time to do this," Masino says. "Gentis gave me the time. They said, 'You stay out there all night if you have to. Don't worry about the patrol, don't worry about the calls.'"

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