TUCSON Sgt. David Azuelo stepped gingerly over the specks of blood on the floor, took note of the bullet hole through the bedroom skylight, raised an eyebrow at the lack of furniture in the ranch-style house and turned to his squad of detectives investigating one of the latest home invasions in this southern Arizona city.
A 21-year-old man had been pistol-whipped throughout the house, the gun discharging at one point, as the attackers demanded money, the victim reported. His wife had been bathing their 3-month-old son when the intruders arrived.
At least they didnt put the gun in the babys mouth like weve seen before, Sergeant Azuelo said. That same afternoon this month, his squad was called to the scene of another home invasion, one involving the abduction of a 14-year-old boy.
This city, an hours drive north of the Mexican border, is coping with a wave of drug crime the police suspect is tied to the bloody battles between Mexicos drug cartels and the efforts to stamp them out.
Since officials here formed a special squad last year to deal with home invasions, they have counted more than 200 of them, with more than three-quarters linked to the drug trade. In one case, the intruders burst into the wrong house, shooting and injuring a woman watching television on her couch. In another, in a nearby suburb, a man the police described as a drug dealer was taken from his home at gunpoint and is still missing.
Tucson is hardly alone in feeling the impact of Mexicos drug cartels and their trade. In the past few years, the cartels and other drug trafficking organizations have extended their reach across the United States and into Canada. Law enforcement authorities say they believe traffickers distributing the cartels marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs are responsible for a rash of shootings in Vancouver, British Columbia, kidnappings in Phoenix, brutal assaults in Birmingham, Ala., and much more.
United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors, as a Justice Department report put it in December. The figure rose from 100 cities reported three years earlier, though Justice Department officials said that may be because of better data collection methods as well as the spread of the organizations.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has asked for National Guard troops at the border. The Obama administration is completing plans to add federal agents along the border, a senior White House official said, but does not anticipate deploying soldiers.
The official said enhanced security measures would include increased use of equipment at the ports of entry to detect weapons carried in cars crossing into Mexico from the United States, and more collaboration with Mexican law enforcement officers to trace weapons seized from crime scenes.
Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border agree that the United States is the source for most of the guns used in the violent drug cartel war in Mexico.
The key thing is to keep improving on our interdiction of the weapons before they even get in there, said Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security and the former governor of Arizona, who will be testifying before Congress on Wednesday.
Sergeant Azuelo quickly began to suspect that the pistol whipping he was investigating was linked to a drug dispute. Within minutes, his detectives had found a blood-spattered scale, marijuana buds and leaves and a bundle of cellophane wrap used in packing marijuana.
Most often, police officials say, the invasions result from an unpaid debt, sometimes involving as little as a few thousand dollars. But simple greed can be at work, too: one set of criminals learns of a drug load, then rips it and sells it.
The amount of violence has drastically increased in the last 6 to 12 months, especially in the area of home invasions, said Lt. Michael OConnor of the Pima County Sheriffs Department here. The people we have arrested, a high percentage are from Mexico.
The violence in the United States does not compare with what is happening in Mexico, where the cartels have been thriving for years. Forbes recently listed one of Mexicos most notorious kingpins, Joaquin Guzmán, on its list of the worlds billionaires. (No. 701, out of 793, with a fortune worth $1 billion, the magazine said.)