Editor’s note: This is the last in a four-part series on the various types of officers from the Phoenix Police Department assigned to protect Ahwatukee Foothills. The entire series can be found at ahwatukee.com.
A secret weapon in Ahwatukee Foothill’s war on crime is the Neighborhood Enforcement Team.
The shadowy squad of officers, known by their radio call sign of 44 X-ray, works in plain clothes, drives unmarked cars and focuses on the worst of the worst.
They are like the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, specialists who zero in on the dangerous felons and criminals in the neighborhood. They use the tools of detectives and their knowledge of the area and the players in an attempt to solve serious crimes.
“We help determine crime trends in the area; we’re problem solvers in different neighborhoods,” said Sgt. Christopher Kieffer, who commands the unit assigned to Ahwatukee Foothills. “We concentrate a lot on narcotic complaints, but we also help out other bureaus like auto, robbery, you name it.”
Two years ago when Henry Diaz was robbing local businesses with a sawed-off shotgun authorities feared his crime spree could escalate into something deadly. Kieffer and his NET squad took on the task of finding him and within a few days, using surveillance video from a business near one he had robbed, plus some good old-fashioned police work, they took him into custody.
The case was so air-tight that Diaz didn’t even try to fight the multiple armed robbery and kidnapping charges, instead he simply pleaded guilty and is in prison.
The squad has had other successes, including busting a drug ring and confiscating $217,000 in marijuana and arresting without incident an L.A. gang member wanted for armed robbery.
Police in Ahwatukee Foothills rely on tips and information from residents, and the NET squad is no different. Last year when a neighbor became suspicious of all the cars coming and going from a home, he called police. The NET squad got the information and after a few days of surveillance they busted the home, arresting the dealers and confiscating 147 grams of methamphetamine worth more than $10,000.
At other times one case leads to another, like when they were lying in wait around 48th Street and Ray Road, looking for people attempting to burglarize or steal cars and instead saw a drug deal go down. In that incident they arrested the buyers and sellers and confiscated a brown paper bag with more than 10 pounds of marijuana.
A sign of the unit’s success is that even with the municipal budget crunch putting a crimp on the department; the 44 X-ray unit will soon grow from four officers and a sergeant to six, plus a sergeant.
“We can use the help,” Kieffer said.
Because of the nature of their plainclothes work, there are few photos of the officers on the NET squad, and their names rarely appear in the paper to protect their identity and allow them to work in public, wearing civilian clothes.
“We like to keep a low profile,” Kieffer said.