No room for error in law enforcement - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

No room for error in law enforcement

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, August 19, 2011 4:00 am | Updated: 10:27 am, Tue Jan 21, 2014.

August 9th marked the 20th anniversary of the murder of nine monks at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple just outside Goodyear.

After a monthlong investigation, Maricopa County Sheriff's detectives arrested five Tucson men after receiving information from a mental hospital patient. Following hours of interrogation and being fed information about the murders, four of the men confessed and were charged with murder.

During this time, evidence linking the real killers to the crimes was in sheriff's office custody. Charges were later dropped against the five Tucson men, and the actual killers - who almost got away with murder - were arrested following an examination of the evidence by the Department of Public Safety crime lab.

Former Maricopa County sheriff's detective Russell Kimball, who participated in the investigation, told the Arizona Republic in a recent story: "Among the mistakes made by interrogators, they fed information about the case to the suspects. A trained homicide investigator would not do that."

Twenty years after the Temple murders, we have also learned that MCSO has failed to properly investigate over 400 violent crimes, including sex offenses and homicide, since 2005.

However, flawed criminal investigations don't occur just at MCSO.

In June, during the murder trial of suspected Baseline serial killer Mark Goudeau, Tempe police detective Susan Schoville tearfully testified how she bungled the September 2005 investigation of Georgia Thompson, a 19-year-old Tempe woman who was Goudeau's first known murder victim.

During an interrogation, Schoville provided details of the murder to a Kentucky jail inmate who'd never been to Arizona. He confessed in hopes of doing his life behind bars in Arizona and not Kentucky. The inmate's only knowledge of the murder was what he saw on the "Maury Povich Show" and what Schoville told him.

Schoville was hungry for a confession and she got it.

The false confession sent Tempe detectives on a wild goose chase and caused county prosecutors to bring charges, all while Goudeau continued his almost year-long crime spree that totaled nine murders and 15 rapes before Phoenix police captured him and solved the Tempe murder.

The problem of incompetent investigations into violent crimes goes beyond interrogations.

Last week, an independent audit revealed that the Pinal County Sheriff's Office failed to send evidence from over 200 rape cases to the DPS crime lab for analysis. Violent crimes are often linked and solved with evidence only available after a crime lab scientific examination.

PCSO admitted that its investigators just assumed that once they booked the kits into evidence, technicians would send them to the lab. So they never followed up.

Proper procedure is for detectives to complete the request for scientific examination and work with the state crime lab. That shouldn't fall on the department or evidence property custodian.

Changes are reportedly in the works for PCSO. In 2009 and 2010, PCSO reported 169 rapes in its jurisdiction.

Failure to properly follow up on investigations - as done by Maricopa and Pinal County detectives - is as egregious as feeding information to a suspect during an interrogation.

California and Illinois require law enforcement officers assigned to homicide and sex crimes investigations to receive special training and meet a state standard to conduct investigations. In Arizona any officer can investigate a murder or rape.

But not in Phoenix.

At the Phoenix Police Department, applicants to the homicide unit must complete an 18-week detective training program and have previous detective experience before applying. Once assigned, all detectives must complete advanced training in death investigation to maintain their assignment.

With the recent reports about past and present failures by city and county law enforcement agencies, has the time come for state lawmakers to pass legislation like other states have done to ensure Arizona police officers are properly trained and do professional criminal investigations?

There are fundamental mistakes being made by law enforcement officers in a job that has no room for error.

Not all criminals are caught for the crimes they commit. But they should never get away with a crime because the police didn't do their job right.

• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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