By Ross Hager and J. Ferguson
Matt Robles/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A Tucson Police Department officer investigates a killing at La Mexicana Super Carniceria on South Sixth Avenue on Sept. 14. Nationwide statistics have shown a decrease in murders, but TPD says Tucson's murder rate is on the rise.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
While the national homicide rate has gone down over the past year, the number of murders in Tucson has stayed relatively the same, police said.
Tucson Police Department reported their 45th homicide Saturday and said there were 50 homicides by this time last year.
The murder rate at the university has remained consistent with no homicides occurring on campus since 2002.
The University of Arizona Police Department credits the low murder rate to its ability to deal with smaller issues that can often lead to larger, more violent crimes, said UAPD Spokesman Sgt. Eugene Mejia.
"Paying attention to the little things is important," Mejia said. "By addressing minor issues you are keeping it safer for the community."
While Mejia said he believes UA students feel safe on campus, he realizes that the surrounding Tucson area can affect crime.
"Criminal behavior is potentially crossing over to the campus area," Mejia said. "They know no boundaries."
There are drugs or alcohol present in one-fourth of all murders and more than one-fourth are gang related, said TPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Mark Robinson.
Although the murder rate does not seem to be seriously fluctuating, homicides are difficult to predict and each statistic is significant, Robinson said.
"That one extra life is a big deal," Robinson said. "It's not a number, it's a person."
Robinson said although the 2005 murder rate is slightly lower than last year, police are not content with the figures.
"To say you are doing great with (45) murders is a misnomer," Robinson said. "We are not happy we had any."
Police have taken steps in trying to prevent homicides in Tucson, Robinson said.
These steps include aggressively confiscating firearms, which were used in 69 percent of the homicides that occurred between January and June, Robinson said.
Fifty-four percent of those firearms were handguns, Robinson said.
Although the weapons used may vary, the situations where homicides occur are usually the same, Robinson said.
While the statistics may look chilling, Robinson said he understands Tucson is a big city and with a larger population comes more murders.
"Cities are more violent," Robinson said. "Homicides are more concentrated in metropolitan areas."
Along with the murder rate, TPD's clearance rate has also remained historically consistent.
In 2004, TPD solved 64 percent of all murders and so far in 2005, 65 percent have been solved, Robinson said.
'Al-Pieda' member pleads guilty to assault
One of the two men who tried to hit syndicated columnist Ann Coulter last year with tofu cream pies pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault on Friday.
According to University of Arizona Police Department reports, Phillip Edgar Smith and William Zachary Wolff tried to attack Coulter with pies as she spoke before 2,400 people in Centennial Hall on Oct. 21, 2004.
Calling themselves "Al-Pieda," the duo's tofu cream pies missed their intended target, ruining a nearby backdrop instead.
Smith pleaded guilty Friday and agreed to pay half of the cost to repair the black muslin backdrop that was damaged when one of pies hit it, said Deputy Pima County Attorney Noah Van Amburg.
Smith, who graduated from the UA in December 2004 with a bachelor's degree in political science, will pay $915, and a $250 fine will be waived if he pays the restitution by Dec. 5, Van Amburg said.
Damage to the backdrop was an estimated $1,830, Van Amburg said.
In exchange for the guilty plea of 25-year-old Smith last week, Van Amburg said the Pima County Attorney's Office dismissed disorderly conduct and criminal damage charges.
Wolff is scheduled to appear before a Pima County judge Nov. 30. at a change-of-plea hearing, Van Amburg said.
The 25-year-old Wolff, who was offered a plea agreement by Pima County prosecutors, may accept an agreement during the hearing at the end of the month.
"He has been extended an offer," Van Amburg confirmed, declining to go into specifics.
The case against Wolff and Smith was re-filed in April after the original case was dismissed in March after Coulter and the arresting UAPD officer failed to appear to testify against the duo.