September 14, 2005 - When a concrete bird bath disappeared from the front yard of the Catalina home of the Watsons a few weeks ago, the family was left both scared and perplexed.
The bath was heavy and was placed in front of a large window in front of the home using a dolly to move its three pieces.
Whoever stole it had to be brazen, Pat Watson thought, and to know that someone came that close to where her family slept and took something that was theirs was chilling.
So, after filing a report with the police, Watson began walking the neighborhood, putting up flyers asking if others had noticed items missing from their yards. In one week, more than a dozen people called, telling her stories of vanishing lawn ornaments, cars that were broken into, and entire security lighting systems that had disappeared in the night.
On her own street, in the Blackhorse Ranch subdivision, four of the six homes had something stolen within a few weeks of one another.
"They have just cleaned out everything we've done to improve our yards," Watson said.
And that has left Watson and her neighbors frustrated, not only by the thefts, but also by the response to date of the Pima County Sheriff's Department, which neighbors say has not been able to stop the crimes.
"We're being targeted," Watson said. "We're making reports to the sheriff's department, but we're not seeing any action."
Concerned residents brought about 50 signed petitions asking the county for more help in controlling crime in Catalina to a recent public open house, organized to present plans for a regional park to be built in the community as part of the 2004 Pima County bond program.
Residents said they were taking advantage of the opportunity of having Supervisor Ann Day and other county officials in the room to present the problem.
Resident Cy Gilson said he believes the park is a good idea, but he said the park will bring more visitors to Catalina and he is concerned that not all of those visitors will have good intentions. Gilson also lives in the Blackhorse Ranch community in Catalina, where residents have experienced a rash of burglaries. The community members have held neighborhood meetings to discuss what they say are about 50 different incidents of theft and burglary.
Gilson wants to know how the park will be protected and if the county intends to beef up the police forces in the community before inviting more people to visit it.
And he was just one of several who spoke out with concerns about crime at the recent meeting.
David Grant, who lives on Windsail Road, near the park site, said he, too, wants to know if the sheriff's department will provide more protection to the community. He has been complaining to the department almost daily about speeding all-terrain vehicles that whiz through his neighborhood. He said he has seen people nearly struck by the ATVs and said even though he has complained to law enforcement the problem has not subsided. The complaints, he said, have brought retaliation. He has had windows of his home broken by golf balls, rocks and other foreign objects tossed into his yard.
He asked that a physical barrier be built around the future park so the vehicles won't have access to it.
He also asked that the street ban on the vehicles be enforced.
"If you see them, impound them," he said.
John Spiker, the project manager for the Catalina Regional Park, said they will be fencing in portions of the park, as well as installing security lighting in some areas. The county also intends to have park hours, and by July the sheriff's department will be regularly patrolling.
"Hopefully the park has more of a good presence than a bad presence," he said.
Suzanne Shields, a representative of the flood control district, said she has been involved in similar park projects in the past and there often is a concern about increased crime.
"We tend to find that the park actually brings crime down in the area," she said.
Greater Catalina Councilman Mark Kendall asked what it would take to get more officers patrolling Catalina.
Spiker said the most important thing to do is to let the elected officials know about the problem.
Pima County Supervisor Ann Day asked the residents to make sure they report each and every crime that occurs in their neighborhoods and said the county will not know the magnitude of the problem unless each alleged incident is recorded.
"We need you, as citizens, to do your job and help," she said.
She said that the community may need more sheriff's deputies stationed there but that increasing the number of deputies requires money.
Pima County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Chavarria said Catalina has had a longtime problem with "homegrown criminals" who live in the community and commit crimes, from drug use to property crimes. He said the department arrests them and puts them in jail but when they get out they come back to the community and resume the same lifestyle they had before.
"It's a cycle," he said. "And these individuals lately have been out of jail again."
He said the department looks at the release dates of these known criminals and can see that spikes in crime coincide with those times. In 2000, the last time Catalina had a large community meeting about crime, these same convicts were being let out of jail.
Catalina also has an issue with what Chavarria calls "line jumpers," known criminals who live in Pinal County, in San Manuel and Oracle, and go to Catalina to commit crimes. He said Pima County is trying to work with Pinal County to address this issue.
Another problem Catalina has is the ATVs. That problem, Chavarria said, is " a sore subject with a lot of people" because many in the community have been riding the vehicles all of their lives, even though they are not street legal.
Chavarria said the department is trying to help by taking photos and keeping logs on those who are riding the vehicles illegally.
He said the biggest obstacle in pursuing these individuals is that the department doesn't have the equipment to chase after them after they leave the streets and hit the rugged countryside.
"The sheriff's department is not going to chase after them," he said. "We will hurt ourselves or someone else. These people are very knowledgeable about the terrain."
Chavarria told the residents who attended the Sept. 7 meeting that the best way to protect themselves is to know their neighbors and keep an eye out for the unusual.
"You know best who belongs and who does not," he said. He also encouraged the community to watch out for each other and to call the department regarding anything unusual.
But this response does little to console Watson and her neighbors, who say that, even if they call, by the time anyone gets to Catalina the criminals are long gone and the community is once again victimized.
"I just bought a quarter of a million dollar home in one of the biggest crime neighborhoods in town," Watson said. "If I wanted to live like this, I would have bought a home in the south part of town for a lot less money."
She said the neighbors have been calling to file complaints about the various thefts and burglaries but so far have not seen the evidence of more frequent patrols.
The petitions the residents have circulated ask for more sheriff's deputies to be put on the streets of Catalina, where the population has increased without a boost in protection. The neighbors also are asking the Blackhorse Ranch managers, Lewis Management, to hire nighttime security or to put a gate up around the community.
Watson said, after hearing the comments at the recent public meeting by the county and the sheriff's department representative, they will be calling Ann Day's office to try to lobby support of the supervisors to add deputies in Catalina.
She said she was discouraged after hearing comments by Chavarria at the public meeting that indicated the department is aware of the criminals in Catalina.
"It's like they're throwing their hands up, saying 'We know we have these problems and they aren't going away,'" she said.
If no help comes from these steps by the neighbors to organize and ask for more protection, Watson said the residents have discussed looking into annexation by neighboring Oro Valley.
"They have a great police department there. Maybe we would get some protection," she said.