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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

May 2023 | Volume 16 | Issue 5

Hanging a sign on your door that says “Gone Fishing” usually means “I’m not working today.” But in the case of the Mesa (Arizona) Police Department (MPD), “gone fishing” means that their officers are carrying out a very important job: building positive relationships with the Mesa community at their annual Cops and Bobbers event at Red Mountain Lake.

Officer Martinez helping bait a hook at Cops and Bobbers.

Which doesn’t mean this work isn’t fun. MPD Bicycle Unit Officer Mark Martinez, shown helping a little girl bait her hook at the 2022 event, greatly enjoys Cops and Bobbers and says everyone else who participates does too.

“It’s a great event and everybody is very friendly, talking with us and having a good time. There were about two hundred people there and the kids were super excited when we gave them fishing poles. When I saw this child trying to cast a tangled reel, I helped her untangle it, put bait on her hook, and showed her how to cast.”

Building Trust with Children

Officer Martinez adds, “I think things like this are important. We want to make sure that people, especially children, aren’t afraid of police and will come to us in an emergency. I’ve heard parents tell their children that ‘the police officer is going to arrest you if you don’t behave.’ We want kids to know we are here to help them.”

Says MPD Commander Aaron Spicer, “Cops and Bobbers provides a way for us to engage with the people who live and work here in a nonenforcement role and know our officers as human beings. It’s an opportunity for open dialogue.”

Mesa Park Ranger assisting children at the fishing program.

A collaborative partnership, Cops and Bobbers is also an opportunity for positive interaction between the MPD; Mesa Parks, Recreation, & Community Facilities; the Arizona Game & Fish Department; and City Councilmember David Luna’s office. “We are fortunate to have the overwhelming support of all of our council members,” says Commander Spicer, adding that Luna brings coffee and donuts for everybody.

The Arizona Game & Fish Department and the Mesa Park Rangers hold a community fishing program at the same time, teaching kids how to bait and cast their lines and where to find the best fishing spots. To add to the excitement, the MPD lands a helicopter and brings the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) truck for the kids and their families to explore. The department also gives some items away, such as fishing bobbers with the MPD logo on them.

Community Forums and Youth Programs

“As an agency, we are always looking for opportunities to build relationships,” says Commander Spicer. “It ranges from handing out turkeys to those in need at Thanksgiving to holding community forums for the local clergy, businesspeople, and members of our Asian, African American, Native American, and Hispanic communities. We host a Veterans and a Youth Forum too.

“We focus on the issues important to them. In East Mesa, for instance, where companies such as Amazon are located, we focus on growth and traffic issues.”

MPD officers at a SPARC basketball clinic.

The MPD also runs a program for young people in which they engage in sports and other activities with officers and professional staff while learning life skills. Called SPARC (Sports, Programs & Activities Reuniting Community), it includes a running club and basketball and soccer clinics, as well as a Teen Community Engagement Academy and a Teen Youth Leadership Academy. There’s also a Teen Court, in which young people hear actual cases and determine an appropriate, constructive consequence.

Another SPARC program is Aspire Academy. A leadership- and career-oriented camp for high school-aged girls, Aspire gives them hands-on experience in firefighting and law enforcement operations working side-by-side with women in these fields. Says Commander Spicer, “We’re very proactive in our approach to community policing. We’ve set up a lot of different programs to build community engagement, all of which build relationships through nonenforcement activities. We want people to trust us and know they can call us any time.”

An All-Encompassing Culture of Community Engagement

MPD Bike Unit officers (left to right): Officer Jose Lerma, Officer Mark Martinez, Sgt. Jeff Penrose, Officer Michael Angulo.

For Officer Martinez and the MPD’s bicycle unit , it’s part of everyday life. “We patrol our downtown area. In the event of violent crime or a drug situation, we can get into places other officers can’t. But mostly we’re there to talk to businesses owners to see if they have any problems we can help with and to interact with people on the street, to engage with the community.

“I talk to people, kids especially. They love to see our bikes. Sometimes we see homeless families down on their luck, and we provide resources so they can get temporary shelter.”

Commenting on the pervasiveness of the community policing philosophy in his department, Commander Spicer says, “The importance of community engagement is emphasized in everything we do at Mesa PD, right from the start, in the academy; and community service is part of our training programs. It’s in the Mesa Police Department’s DNA.”

Images Courtesy of Mesa Police Department.

Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
COPS Office

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