Maryvale neighbors watch out for crime as serial shootings plague neighborhood

PHOENIX — Unsolved shootings that have claimed the lives of five people in Maryvale weigh heavily on local police and community members, but a neighborhood watch group on Wednesday said they focus on preventing petty crimes that affect people’s day-to-day lives.

The Peralta Lions Block Watch is comprised of nearly 20 vigilant friends and neighbors who spend their spare time patrolling the streets of this West Valley neighborhood. They meet the first Wednesday of every month to discuss the latest events.

“The main topic today was the shootings. What they see, how they feel and what we can do about it,” said Maribel Lopez, vice president of Peralta Watch.

Maryvale has been plagued by a string of drive-by shootings that began April 1. Five people have been killed, including a twelve-year-old girl, while another victim remains in a coma. Police say one person may be responsible for the four shootings. Police are still searching for a suspect.

Most members of the watch group have received Phoenix Neighborhood Patrol training from their nearest police precinct where they learned best practices for patrolling, reporting techniques and conflict avoidance.

Rosa Pastrana is the captain of the neighboring Osborn Block Watch. She said Maryvale residents previously had a very different relationship with the police.

“You know, before, sometimes – maybe twelve months ago – any corner is a stop. They (police) would stop any car. So the people were scared,” she said. “We try working together now.”

A Phoenix police officer stopped by the meeting at Desert West Park, urging residents to report anything they consider suspicious by calling the non-emergency Crime Stop line. Watch members have no arresting power and are discouraged from intervening.

The Peralta Lions Block Watch handed out materials to attendees explaining how to report suspicious activity. (Photo by Selena Makrides/Cronkite News)

The Peralta Lions Block Watch handed out materials to attendees explaining how to report suspicious activity. (Photo by Selena Makrides/Cronkite News)

Now that her kids are older, Pastrana treats patrolling as her main hobby and often meets with other patrol groups to lend some pointers.

“Any time, people call me. And they say ‘Rosa Pastrana, I need your speaking, I need your motivation.’ I try to motivate the people. I say ‘look at me! I’m a mom and a Latina, and I’m not scared.’”

Lopez believes that since founding the watch a year ago as a response to several robberies, there’s been an impact on safety.

“We think we are doing changes in our community. Before there was too many graffiti, too many suspicious people walking around and on bicycles,” she said. “Now there is less graffiti and our neighborhood is cleaner.”

Some neighbors put block watch signs in their windows to further deter would-be criminals.

Though safety and cleanliness has improved in the area, patrol members believe that constant vigilance is key to keeping it that way.

“Always it’s necessary. Always. Any time. Because the crime never stops,” Pastrana said. “ Sometimes it’s low. Sometimes it’s up. Every day you need to watch the community.”