An Oro Valley councilman predicts that a management study of the town’s police department is not a dead issue and might resurface in some form in the next 60 to 90 days.
Councilman Mike Zinkin acknowledged that Oro Valley is one of the safest communities in the state, even though, he noted, it’s 60 miles from violence across the Mexican border.
“We’re next to Tucson, which is far from the safest community,” Zinkin said. “What the Oro Valley police are doing is excellent.”
Yet Zinkin maintained that no one on the Oro Valley town council is an expert on the police department, and he thinks a management study would “tell us if we’re getting the best bang for our buck. It might come back and tell us there are no changes to be made or find a spot to make a change that could save the town $100,000.”
The figure of $100,000 is that which was budgeted for a police management study in the 2010-2011 budget, but then-council members agreed to an amendment striking the allocations for management studies of the police department and the planning and zoning department. That budget was approved without allocations for those studies.
Former Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said studies were done on the legal and public works departments during his tenure.
“With the legal department, no significant changes were recommended,” Loomis said. “The department was working very well and while there was actually a need for additional paralegals and support personnel, the organization itself was functional and successful.”
The public works department was a different story.
“Public works recognized a need to break the development support, road planning and maintenance, and engineering elements associated with new development away from them,” Loomis said. “So public works eventually became folded into Development and Infrastructure Services.”
Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath sees no need for a study of the police department.
“The Oro Valley Police Department is ranked number one in the state in terms of public safety and lowest in violent crimes since 1974,” Hiremath said. “Public safety is what drives good businesses to come into the town, it drives property values and makes a good strong community because people live and play where they feel safe.”
Vice Mayor Lou Waters agreed with Hiremath’s assessment of the police department.
“It’s simple for me,” he said. “The department operated within its budget and its performance has been 4 percent under budget since 2008.”
Waters noted there have been no complaints on use of force incidents, the department’s response times have decreased and the cost per resident is typical for a town of Oro Valley’s size.
Police Chief Daniel Sharp, who has held the top policing spot in Oro Valley since January 2000, said the department’s mantra is continuous improvements. We don’t sit idly by, we’re always looking at how to do things better. We put together work groups that look at procedures so we can maintain a continuous improvement.”
Sharp cited one internal police study that examined shift schedules and investigated other studies of alternative shifts.
“We determined that four 10-hour shifts for our patrol staff was the way to go,” he said, in terms of productivity and economy. Sharp noted that a recent National Institute of Justice study confirmed the same conclusion drawn by the Oro Valley internal study.
“Law enforcement is dynamic because you are continually dealing with people and change,” Sharp said. “So we’re always looking at training and our policies so we can maintain the expectation of service levels our community requires.”
Sharp and his officers practice a proactive model of prevention policing, he said.
“We have a community policing model that is designed to respond and meet community expectations,” Sharp said. “We want to, and have, developed programs that improve service to the community and enhance the quality of life in the town.”
Councilman Bill Garner is undeterred by the department’s studies and believes a management study “certainly should go forward. This is not political in nature or a witch hunt, but comes down to good business practices.”
Garner said the police department and the parks and recreation department are the largest drain on the Oro Valley budget in terms of overhead and costs.
“I want the ability to save money for the town if that’s what a study shows,” Garner said. “Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes at looking at how you do business. Anyone in business knows it’s a healthy exercise to study your infrastructure.”
Yet studying that infrastructure is precisely what Oro Valley police have been doing, according to Deputy Chief Larry Stevens. The department has done numerous studies of its policies and procedures and continues to do them, he said.
“This year, our lieutenants, involved in patrol scheduling, reviewed a National Institute of Justice scheduling study that examined the benefits of working a 4-10 patrol schedule,” he said. “After review, they supported it, which supported the fact we had been on a 4-10 schedule since February of 2010.”
Stevens said the department did a performance measures study in 2011 for the budget to show that it met expectations, for instance, responding to 78 percent of priority-one calls in under five minutes.
“Our goal was 90 percent, so that showed a snapshot in time where we could look forward to an area that could be improved,” Stevens said.
Stevens pointed out that the department has done internal studies on property audits, the school resource officer program, the motorcycle officer squad and an analysis of the take-home vehicle program.
The chief authorizes the use of take-home vehicles for officers subject to on-call responsibilities, in regard to the geographical location of an officer’s duty station, and to reduce response time to critical incidents.
“We learn from each of these studies,” Stevens said. “In the school resource officer study, we found we were doing most of the things the national standards suggested, but found areas where we might add things to be more effective.”
The take-home vehicle analysis has been done several times to identify the need and determine the advantage to the police service, Stevens said.
“Regarding our motorcycle squad study, two officers were added after we reviewed a Fresno (California) study and compared it to our own activities,” Stevens said. “We now have eight traffic officers on motorcycles and have found it has reduced injuries and fatal accidents.”
Stevens noted that the department is approved for 100 certified police officers, but only currently has 96.
“That doesn’t include some injured officers and those on military deployment,” he observed.
Kevin Maddocks, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53 and a school resource officer, thinks the $100,000 that might be spent on a police management study might better be spent elsewhere.
“Why would they want to spend $100,000 when they’ve spent the last five years whittling the department down?” he asked. “The people pushing this study say they don’t want to cut anything in the police department, but they’re not thinking about what the town could do with that money in terms of services or infrastructure.”
Maddocks said the Oro Valley Police Department is proactive, rather than reactive.
“People choose to have us prevent crime before it gets out of control,” he said. “Often we see council members who are into numbers, but not into people. Those numbers might not take into consideration the effect they have on people.”
Marshall Morris, president of the Oro Valley Police Officer’s Association, has similar views.
“The Oro Valley Police Department doesn’t close,” he said. “It’s a labor-intensive part of the budget. “We’re open 24/7, 365 days a year and have to have officers on the street. If we were at total strength, we would have 2.4 officers per thousand Oro Valley residents, compared with 1.8 officers per thousand residents for Tucson Police Department.”
The Oro Valley Police Department’s 2011-2012 budget was $12,096,513. The previous year it was $11,566,573.
Morris pointed out that while the police budget takes up 47.5 percent of the town’s general operating fund budget of $26.5 million, when one takes into consideration the entire town budget of $95.5 million — which includes such sections as the gasoline tax fund, water utility funds and others — then the police budget is only 19 percent of total expenditures.
Former Mayor Loomis believes there are a lot of challenges associated with management studies.
“They can go in multiple directions and it can be hard to get an objective study based on community needs without a significant contribution from the community and the town staff,” Loomis said. “A lot of people do management studies because it’s the latest fad for organizations, but they can significantly impact the department studied and the community.”
Loomis noted he thinks any study should not be completely independent, but rather inclusive.
“Each town has its own set of values,” he said. “If the consultant tries to be independent, you get a cookie cutter report that’s not focused on the needs and desires of the community.”