Combating crime in South Phoenix one house at a time

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PHOENIX -- It's the worst of the worst in one of the Valley's toughest neighborhoods. For years, drug use and prostitution have brought down property values and made the communities extremely dangerous.

Just because the criminals overtake homes, turning them into magnets for illegal activity, it doesn't mean the neighbors have to put up with it.

There's never a dull moment patrolling the South Mountain Precinct. For more than a decade, Detective Lance Hunt with the Phoenix Police Department has been trying to turn around the many neighborhoods plagued with prostitution and drug use in South Phoenix.

Hunt believes at the core of the problem isn't necessarily the criminals but the properties used for illegal activity.

Lavon Medinas has lived in South Phoenix for 47 years.

"I had a lot of concerns, mainly for children," Medinas said. "That's my main concern always."

So she's fighting back.

"There are a lot of people afraid, I was one of them at first, but I decided I wasn't going to be afraid of anything," Medinas said. "Our neighborhoods are the core of our country and we need to stand up for them."

As Hunt believes, "If we can't curb it, then we go to the next level, and the next level would be an asset forfeiture."

Peter Spaw oversees the Asset Recovery Bureau at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

"This is the nuclear bomb, I think, and we're very, very careful how we use it," he said.

Thanks to Arizona's Asset Forfeiture Law, Hunt and Spaw were able to take a drug-infested home on Madison Street and turn it into a dream house.

"It makes sense when you've got an investigative agency like the city of Phoenix that's just burning all these police hours at this property," Spaw explained. "It starts on the street and if you can take, literally a corner, like we did, and make it a better corner, who knows where that's going to end?"

Which is why Hunt is determined to do the same with other homes in South Phoenix by confronting people who admit to using illegal drugs and convincing them not to use properties as vehicles for criminal activity.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can help turn your neighborhood around, call the Maricopa County Attorney's Office at 602-506-3411 or visit www.maricopacountyattorney.org.