I’ve been traveling in the southwest and reading different newspapers than I usually do. As a result, I learned that Phoenix is America’s “kidnapping capital.” The LA Times published the AP story I saw on December 27:

The latest figures show Phoenix had 302 kidnappings in the first 11 months of 2009, when the city recorded an average of 27 abductions each month. The city had reached a 10-year high in 2008 with 359 kidnappings. The expected decline in 2009 would mark the first decrease since 2005, when the city had 228 kidnappings….

Over the last several years, immigrant and drug smugglers have snatched their rivals, associates or their family members as a way to collect unpaid debt for lost trafficking loads, make quick money from crews flush with cash or as retaliation for earlier abductions.

Clearly, this is a transnational problem — violence from Latin America spilling over into the US according to one authority quoted in the piece:

The kidnappings first came to light in Phoenix in 2005, but they rose as overall violence associated with immigrant and drug smuggling intensified in Arizona, a busy hub for transporting illegal immigrants and marijuana into the country. From there, the city earned the unofficial distinction as America’s kidnapping capital and drew parallels to Mexico, which has long had a kidnapping problem and is the staging point for smuggling operations.

Kidnappings in Phoenix are dwarfed by reported cases involving children, many of which involve family members in custody disputes.

To address the problem, Phoenix set up a special police squad. Officials seem hopeful that it is working, but I doubt that there’s enough data to tell.

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