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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the August 2017 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest: the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. The winning photo features Bureau Chief Karl Woolridge participating in a painting activity with area students.
Pima County is the second most populous county in Arizona, covering the areas in and around Tucson, Arizona’s second largest city. It shares land with the Mexican border, providing a strong Hispanic cultural history. Its linguistic and cultural diversity requires well-trained law enforcement officers who must be equipped to engage and interact with residents of multiple ethnic backgrounds. That is where the Pima County Sheriff’s Department comes in: the department emphasizes training not only its new deputies and corrections officers, but also tenured personnel, on the diversity of the community. Deputies and officers are expected to be part of the community they serve—not above it.
“We have a lot of bilingual and multilingual people here. That’s something we take into account when we train our deputies,” said Deputy Cody Gress, the department’s public information officer. “We realize that we’ll be encountering a lot of different cultures.”
For deputies in Pima County, community policing is just as important for their own safety as for public safety. Pima County has a population of close to one million residents and the department is responsible for covering 9,200 square miles. Many deputies patrol very remote areas in pairs or small groups, so knowing and having strong relationships with community members is critical. “We’ve got one of the largest counties, in terms of square miles, in the country,” Gress shared. “Our deputies have to be self-sufficient in a way that you don’t see in a lot of other police organizations.”
Pima County is not immune to most of the crime-related issues other areas around the country of the same size are experiencing, but it does have unique needs because of its nexus with the Mexican border. Deputies have to manage issues related to drug and human trafficking, and they offer support to U.S. Border Patrol as needed.
Though the department is fairly large, with over 1,400 employees, Gress finds that the camaraderie among staff and the community is strong. “There’s a lot of familiarity, especially when you’re working on patrol, in terms of being effective and coming home safe every night. We typically get assigned the same beats so you get to know the people, especially the people living in remote areas that are kind of cut off from the big city. You get a big mix of the demographic and socioeconomic classes. . . . We have a pretty supportive community, which is nice.”
Gress, who is a 27-year-old native Tucsonan, says that the department encourages officers to engage in self-initiated activities with the community. During his time working in patrol, he says, deputies were expected to get out of their cars and introduce themselves to residents. “We go above and beyond.” In his role as PIO, he gets to lead some of the department’s community outreach efforts, which range from participating in volunteer events and neighborhood fairs to events with area schools.
“Just last week our SRO [school resource officer] unit put on an active shooter workshop with local high school students. They were able to get the drama students to participate. The students took a week off of their summer vacation to participate.” The workshop drew over 150 participants over a week’s span, in which the students worked with officers to enact three active-shooter scenarios. “That’s a really good example of what we’re doing to help better prepare people for the worst situation.”
The department’s winning photo features Karl Woolridge, a bureau chief, during a planned event specifically for command staff. Gress shared that it is important for the command staff to engage with the community often and to build rapport with youth. Those efforts may also be helping with recruitment and hiring: Gress shared that, though the department has a mix of ages represented, it is quickly becoming a young department as more young recruits are joining the force.
The COPS Office congratulates the Pima County Sheriff’s Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2017 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest, and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Deputy Sheriff Cody Gress. Photo taken by Christopher M. Radtke.
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