By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
HATE SQUAD ON HOLD
I'm not sure which news emanating from the Phoenix Police Department is more disturbing: the fact that hate crimes were up nearly 30 percent in Phoenix in 2009 from 2008, or that PPD muck-a-mucks have decided to do away with their most effective tool in tackling white supremacists and others who commit hate crimes, the Career Criminal Squad.
The stats I recently obtained from the Phoenix PD for 2009 tell a frightening tale, even more chilling for the fact that nearly all experts in such matters will tell you that hate crimes go largely unreported.
In 2009, there were 115 crimes categorized as bias-related by the PPD, most of them perpetrated against blacks and Hispanics. This is up from 89 reported to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program in 2008. The trend is upward for hate crimes in Phoenix. In 2007, 80 hate crimes were reported.
The 2008 numbers reflected an 11.25 percent increase. The 2009 numbers, a 29.21 percent increase over 2008.
Although the Phoenix PD has a Bias Crimes Unit, the reality is that the unit is reactive, not proactive. Nor does Bias Crimes go undercover to solve crimes and bring the perps to justice. For the two years, that responsibility has lain with the Career Criminal Squad, a unit of four detectives and one sergeant operating out of the department's Major Offender Bureau.
The CCS was formed in 2008 by Lieutenant Heston Silbert, then serving under MOB Commander Frank Milstead. (Silbert now serves as the head of the Phoenix PD's Ahwatukee-Foothills substation.)
Milstead's name may be familiar to you as the newly appointed chief of the Mesa Police Department. The men in the CCS are hand-selected law enforcement veterans. Their mission has been to go after street-level violent crimes committed by the likes of white supremacists and neo-Nazi skinheads.
Since 2008, CCS detectives have been involved in 400 investigations resulting in 150 felony arrests, the issuance of 53 search warrants, and 180 weapons and explosives seized.
But the stats do not begin to describe the amount of work done by the small squad, which was informed last week that it will be disbanded by April 5 as a cost-cutting measure. This, barring an about-face by Public Safety Manager Jack Harris.
The squad has become legendary for breathing life into cold cases. One of those involved a wolf pack of white supremacists, including a lowlife named Chad Kerns, a neo-Nazi so devoted to the cause of white supremacy that he has Adolf Hitler's face tattooed over his heart.
In 2007, Kerns and about four or five other racist skinheads participated in two brutal attacks: one on a Hispanic man wearing an anti-Nazi T-shirt at the Phoenix bar Rogue West; the other on a black man outside a Walgreen's at 34th Avenue and Dunlap.
They jumped the Hispanic man, beat and punched him, and cracked him with a bar stool, leaving him with gaping wound on his head.
The black man nearly lost his life. Kerns pulled a knife and stabbed him twice, puncturing his bowel and injuring his liver. Earlier, Kerns' white supremacist pals had called the man a "fucking nigger."
Five men involved in these attacks were prosecuted, with Kerns getting the most time. Were it not for the CCS, Kerns would not be stewing in the state pen for 10 years. Before CCS picked it up, the case was deader than George Lincoln Rockwell.
This is but one case in which the CCS has proactively built cases against those committing hate crimes. Another involved an attack on a Hispanic gay man by members of the Duppa Villa Projects Gang outside a gay bar in Phoenix.
Though the ringleader, Thomas Mitchell, was arrested at the scene, the charges were later dropped. A member of the CCS followed up with the victim and found that the gang members were looking to rob him of his wallet, as well as beat him down. The case was re-filed because of CCS' work.
Mitchell told investigators that he "just hates faggots," according to court records, and that he and his "homies" had sought out a gay man to assault and rob. Mitchell ended up pleading guilty and pulling 4½ years in prison.
There are numerous other examples, like neo-Nazis the squad's busted on weapons charges, taking them off the streets for years at a time.
In addition, the squad has worked various murder-for-hire cases, everything from the case of Cigar Warehouse chain owner Dimitri Rozenman, currently on trial for allegedly seeking a hit on his wife, to that of David Elms, owner of an Internet prostitute-rating biz called the Erotic Review, accused of seeking a hit on a 32-year-old woman.
With this sort of productivity, why would the Phoenix PD even consider ridding itself of the unit?
Commander Charles Miller, a spokesman for the department, explained that the squad would be disbanded because of budget cuts requested by the Phoenix City Manager's Office.
The men themselves would be reassigned within the department, perhaps even sent back to patrol. He insisted that their current functions would remain the responsibility of the Major Offender Bureau, but he could not say how these jobs would get done.