Following the second highly publicized, unsolved murder of an Arizona State University student in six months, the Tempe Police Department has come under fire for its handling of violent crimes.
The department responded to media inquiries about crime statistics by issuing a press release yesterday touting how violent crime has decreased considerably since the same period last year. In the same release, however, the department announced that the number of homicides in Tempe has skyrocketed in 2010 to the second-highest murder rate in 20 years.
So far this year, 12 people have been murdered in Tempe -- that we know of -- in 10 separate incidents. That's a considerable increase from the two murders within the city in 2009.
The average number of homicides in Tempe per year is five, according to the department.
Other violent crimes, like assault and robbery, are down 13.7 percent this year, the department claims, but observers believe that number may be skewed.
"It's real easy for police to turn a robbery into a theft [for the sake of crime statistics]," says former Mesa Detective Bill Richardson.
Richardson is highly critical of the Tempe department and tells New Times that many violent crimes in Tempe could have been classified as something else for recording purposes.
Much of the outrage directed at the Tempe cops isn't necessarily about the number of murders that have happened recently, but the number of unsolved murders -- as documented by Richardon, a contributor to Valley Fever.
Check out a column Richardson penned on the matter for the East Valley Tribune here.
The most publicized of Tempe's six unsolved murders is the case of Kyleigh Sousa, the 21-year-old ASU student killed after she was robbed and dragged by the car of the man who robbed her.
The latest murder was of another 21-year-old ASU student, Zachary Marco, which was the city's 12th homicide this year and happened within a mile of where Sousa was murdered.
Another of this year's highly publicized murders was J.C. Call, a 19-year-old shot execution-style at a Tempe machinery shop within a few miles of where both Sousa and Marco were murdered.
All three of these killings remain unsolved.
Another memorable case with no closure in sight is that of Jeffrey Ahlers, a 47-year-old Tempe man found shot to death in a canal.
Check out his story here.
Tempe police still won't say whether the case was a homicide or a suicide.
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"I have heard nothing new on that case," Tempe police spokesman Steve Carbajal tells New Times this afternoon.
Several of Ahlers' friends have contacted New Times and say he was a happy man with absolutely no reason to kill himself. They're insulted that the department would suggest his death was a suicide, especially given Ahlers' strong religious views and that police won't say whether a gun was found along with Ahlers' body, which would only make sense if he had killed himself.
Ahlers' friends, many of whom live on the East Coast, want answers. For now, all they're gonna get is the following statement from the Tempe PD:
"One homicide is too many and each incident is tragic and unique from the others," the Department says in a press release. "The Tempe Police Department is committed to fighting crime in our city and will continue to diligently investigate all crimes and we remain committed to being open and forthright with our community about crime in our city."