The 19North Community Alliance is launching a 90-day pilot program in Phoenix with the goal of deterring crime in the area, and potentially creating a model that could be replicated elsewhere.

With its organizational beginnings in 2017, 19North encompasses the area from Montebello Avenue, north to Dunlap Avenue, west to 23rd Avenue and east to 15th Avenue, and includes just over 30,000 residents. Its vision is to “build safe, walkable communities for all to enjoy; where every business thrives, every student succeeds and every neighborhood is safe.”

A business near the corner of 19th Avenue and Northern sports the 19North logo (mural by @mirleebac; photo by Kathryn M. Miller)

It was with their vision of safety in mind that the idea for the Northern Avenue Safety Collaboration was born.

“I think the thing that we need to get out there more is that we have an opioid epidemic that’s real, and specifically fentanyl,” said 19North executive director Shannon McBride.

“I think people see it, but they don’t know what it is. They call it, ‘that’s homelessness,’ ‘that’s a hobo.’ They’ll have lots of different names for it. But what we’re seeing are people who are in the midst of illegal drug activity. Whether they’re selling, whether they’re buying, whether they’re using, that’s what’s happening on our bus stops and on the corners and the people that are sleeping in the area, there’s addiction issues.”

According to the Desert Horizon Police Precinct, along 19th Avenue from Camelback to Peoria, the number-one person offense was assault (and related crimes) at 1,728 during 2021. The same area saw 4,406 property related offenses to include burglary, criminal damage, trespassing, and other thefts in 2021.

And what about drug-related crimes? While Desert Horizon did not have specific statistics for the 19North area, Precinct Commander Brian Issitt stated that the precinct as a whole (which runs as far north as the Loop 101, south to Campbell Avenue, west to the I-17 and east to Scottsdale Road) has seen a 53.6 percent increase in narcotic offenses between 2020 and 2021. He added that the main factor they have identified driving this increase is the prevalence of the continued sale/possession/usage of fentanyl.

One of the sponsors of the pilot program, Town West Realty, says that some of the biggest concerns they are hearing from their tenants is vagrancy and crime, which they also largely attribute to drug activity, “And they don’t want that to affect their patrons and customers,” shared Jim Horvath, president.

“So that’s the catalyst,” McBride said. “How do we make our community safer? That’s what this pilot is about.”

Northern Avenue businesses and property owners, the Phoenix Police Department, various city of Phoenix departments and addiction specialists are coming together to form the collaboration. Under the pilot program Omega Protective Services will provide an armed, uniformed guard in a marked car who will patrol along a stretch of Northern Avenue (as well as north to Butler Drive and south to Hayward Avenue), from 17th Avenue to the I-17, seven days a week, seven hours per day, for three months.

According to the Omega service agreement, “the collaboration is attempting to impact and combat the drug trafficking, vandalism, and addicts on Northern Avenue.”

In addition to signing the service agreement, businesses participating in the pilot program would be asked to follow the 19North Crime Prevention Checklist, which includes posting “No Trespassing” signs and updating their “Authority to Arrest” (ATA) with the city, as well as posting “referral cards” to encourage people to seek help. These cards include contact information for organizations that work in the area, including Community Bridges, Inc., Community Medical Services and Phoenix Rescue Mission.

The patrol aspect, with a $36,000 price tag, is key to the pilot program and is being funded by donations from area developers, property owners and individual businesses. Those on board so far include Town West Realty, which owns the Sprout’s 19th/Northern Marketplace property; Trillium, which is developing the former El Caro Golf Course; Westcoast Capital; and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, headquartered within the patrol area.

The signed patrol agreement would allow Omega to enforce “No Trespassing” signs during day hours and the ATA during closed hours, as well as provide 24-hour support.

Issitt explained the enforcement aspect of the pilot.

“The Phoenix Police Department is working in conjunction with the 19North Coalition.  19North and Shannon McBride have worked together to share their resources to provide security for the businesses involved in the coalition.  The security guards will be active at all sites and if they run into people who are trespassing and refusing to leave and/or they contact someone who has already been trespassed from the property, the police will be contacted for enforcement action.”

The commander added, “In the cases of homeless people, we always try to lead with services first to get the person the help they need — whether it is mental health services, housing needs, etc.”

Another key aspect of the pilot: the 19North Community would be named as a victim in any drug related crimes in the area, with the goal of “creating stiffer penalties.” While the community cannot be named victim of trespassing infractions (only the business) this would apply to possession and use charges, as well as any other drug-related crimes.

McBride said that including the 19North community as a victim will be a learning experience.

“This is something they’ve done in year’s past, but we’re pulling it back out of the files of options for communities. And so, we’re going to learn.”

What kind of cases will be charged will be up to the city prosecutor’s office, McBride says, “But our whole point is, even if it’s, let’s say possession of a big amount, I’d like to go before a judge and still say, ‘This isn’t a little deal. In our community, this is adding up to be a big deal in our community.’”

“The neighborhood is really going through some great regentrification,” Horvath added. “There’s some positives…one of the partners in the pilot program is a developer that’s building, I think, 250 condos and apartments right behind our shopping center and there’s a lot of interest and activity. Some of the apartment buildings are being renovated.

“We’d like to do a renovation at our shopping center. So, for this to happen now, we have to have a safe environment. We can’t have our patrons that visit our property or residences, being hassled or affected by a criminal element. So, we have to clean up the neighborhood, or help clean up the neighborhood and we think that this pilot program will work, and we’re willing to give it a try.”

McBride shared that, as of February, the funding for the pilot program is in place, and as soon as “permission slips” from the area businesses are in hand, the Northern Avenue Safety Collaboration pilot program will be underway.

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            Look for additional coverage on some of the issues facing 19North and other North Central communities in our April issue. In the meantime, let us know what you think:



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