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Community safety: Sheriff Penzone discusses local issues

5/10/17

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

NORTH VALLEY – The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office serves a broad region, operating to meet the needs of the residents throughout the county. Northern Maricopa County has its own unique challenges, and The Foothills Focus recently interviewed Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone regarding north valley issues and the future of MCSO.

While New River, Desert Hills, and Anthem east of the I-17 are served by MCSO, Anthem west of the 17 and Tramonto and other sections of north Phoenix are served by Phoenix Police Department. Penzone said that this presents “inherent challenges” and that law enforcement does its best to provide a coordinated, effective effort. Still, lapses or delays in communication between the two crime-fighting agencies may occur. Penzone noted that, for law enforcement, it’s important to recognize these communication issues so the agencies can cross-train, so that when working together, “we’re best prepared to give the highest level of service.”

For many local residents, police response time is a major concern, and, in past years, some residents have reported long waits after placing emergency calls. Asked if this is due to the ongoing shortage of law enforcement personnel, Penzone agreed and also said that geography is a contributing factor; larger geographical areas may be more spread out, and deputies may be further away from emergency callers. To improve response time and free up deputies to respond to priority calls, Penzone is looking at adding support services such as crime scene investigators and further utilizing the posse when appropriate.

Filling more law enforcement positions is a priority for Penzone.

“Staffing for all law enforcement agencies is a current challenge,” Penzone said, noting that they’re “short on all staff members.”

“It’s not just deputies,” Penzone said, adding that they have detention officer, dispatcher, and other positions open.

“There are so many unique roles in our organization that there’s a fit for everyone,” he said.

Penzone is exploring the option of hiring civilians for certain positions where it would be appropriate, in place of sworn deputies. This would widen the candidate pool considerably, and, Penzone says, the financial investment would be reduced.

“We have to be smart about filling positions with the most qualified people while being cognizant of ways to best use our dollars,” Penzone said, noting that there are many skilled professionals who may not want to become sworn deputies but could provide useful experience in their field.

Those interested in applying can go to Maricopa.gov to see more about open positions.

The north valley has been the site of several currently unsolved crimes, and while investigations continue, some residents have asked for more patrols and more response. When asked how residents can get more patrolling and follow-up, Penzone said it’s his responsibility to ensure that the MCSO meets the needs of the communities that it serves.

“Our core responsibility is to provide first response services to the areas that are unincorporated and under contract,” Penzone said. “We need to make sure that with the personnel we have, we’re allocating them in the areas of need,” which includes making sure deputies have adequate backup and the support services they need.

“It’s still a work in progress, but it’s a priority for us,” Penzone emphasized.

Crimes of opportunity, including car break-ins, continue to be prevalent in the north valley. Law enforcement officials stress the importance of awareness and taking steps like locking your car, closing your garage door, and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in your neighborhood.

“We always have to remember, we’re the first line of defense when it comes to our own safety and protection of our property,” Penzone said. “The more steps we take to prevent those crimes, the less time criminals are apt to spend in your community.”

Penzone aims to increase community education on personal safety, crime trends, and the best ways to protect yourself.

“I want to see our organization utilize not only our full time staff but the posse as an educational arm,” Penzone said.

AS MCSO advances under Penzone’s leadership, he wants to ensure that employees have the opportunity to thrive, “to apply their skills to meet their passion, which is to serve this community and keep it safe.” His vision for the agency is working as a “well-oiled machine, with many contributors.”

“You’re going to see a greater emphasis on addressing the issue of violent crime, community partnerships and education, and an attitude of excellence,” Penzone said of his goals for MCSO.