It was a packed room at the Sun City Social Hall on Tuesday when Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp discussed community policing – a sign the residents of Oro Valley are not only interested in the topic, but already implementing it.
Community groups such as the Sun City Posse have received much recognition for taking ownership on crime prevention, but theirs is only one example of the initiative being taken by town residents to keep Oro Valley a safe place to live.
Sharp recognizes that, and gives much of the credit back to the residents, whom he says are the “bosses” of the police department.
“You folks are the ones who tell us how to police,” he said. “You’re the ones who tell us what we should do and the expectation of service you are going to have. You’re the ones that are willing to go out and patrol your streets, or saying you want police officers in our schools, or that you want a quick response time, but you’re also telling us you’d really rather not be the victim of a crime.”
Community policing in Oro Valley then, is not the same as community policing in Phoenix, or Austin, or New York, added Sharp.
“The community defines it,” said Sharp. “It has to be specific to the place we are policing.”
Sharp said many departments, largely due to increased technology and decreased community interaction, have become reactive to crime instead of proactive. Not the case in Oro Valley.
“Let’s take a giant step backwards,” he said. “We put cops on bicycles, we have them out on walking patrol. We do things where we can start connecting with our public and being part of the community. We went from being reactive back to proactive, to the term I charge everybody with, and that’s ‘coactive.’ We’re all in this together.”
Some of the community events in Oro Valley each year include the Shop With a Cop event, Dispose-A-Med, and the Citizen’s Police Academy. The Oro Valley Police Department has also implemented School Resource Officers since 1977.
In the wake of the Newtown Conn. shooting, Oro Valley has received national attention for being one of the few communities in the country to make use of such officers.
According to Care2.com, there have been three school shootings since the Newtown tragedy, which has prompted more schools to introduce resource officers on campuses. Vice Mayor Lou Waters counts 100 school shootings since the Columbine, which occurred in 1999.
“You don’t know what is going to happen, and that’s why we put things in place to prevent it,” said Sharp. “We deal with what’s possible, not probable.”
The Oro Valley Police Department has seven SRO’s in its five public schools. The SRO program costs the department $700,000 annually.
Sharp said his five-point community policing plan, made up of service, accountability, problem solving, neighborhood focus, and decentralization, “works because of communities like this.”
“I’ve had people ask me why we have so many cops in Oro Valley when we don’t have crime – I don’t know how to argue with that,” said Sharp.
Sharp and the rest of the Oro Valley Police Department encourage residents to call the police when seeing something suspicious – no matter the degree.