Chief of newly formed Ariz. PD targets 10 challenges for his force

"I would not be surprised if we increase the department by doubling it in the next five years. I think the data is telling us that we're moving that quickly."

By Mark Moran
East Valley Tribune

MESA, Ariz. — Despite countless successes and first-ever accomplishments in its first year of existence, Queen Creek Police Chief Randy Brice said there is still a lot to do to get the department where he wants it to be as it nears its first anniversary on Jan. 11.

"This was an extraordinary endeavor for a lot of different reasons," Brice said. "There's no step-by-step manual, and to do that in the middle of a pandemic with COVID and supply chains and a lot of the national conversation about policing, in general, it was quite the lift."

Prior to the department's formation, Queen Creek was patrolled by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Brice said that was a large task for a department that was stretched thin by the sheer lack of officers covering a huge swath of geography.

Brice anticipates a quick expansion of the town's police force, which currently has 74 sworn police officers and 14 administration staff.

"The next five years we are really looking at growing the department rapidly to make sure that we are staying ahead of that curve, rather than being a responsive agency being a proactive agency," Brice said.

"I would not be surprised if we increase the department by doubling it in the next five years. I think the data is telling us that we're moving that quickly."

Brice said the department will need additional professional staff to support the growing number of patrol officers.

"We knew that," he said. "We just needed to make sure we had enough cops on the street. The support staff are so important."

As the department enters its second year, Brice is focusing on the top 10 areas that kept officers busy last year — and which will be areas of renewed focus in 2023.

Number 1: Suspicious persons, vehicles, or circumstances.

Brice said the department uses this metric to measure how engaged the community is, which is the number one focus for the department.

"It's part of our overall strategy to reduce property crime," he said. "More than 90% of the theft that happens out in the neighborhoods is happening because people are leaving their cars unlocked, their garage doors open, their side gates unlocked, stuff out in the open."

Brice encourages people to call if they see something suspicious. "It went from one of our really low calls to one of our number one calls, which is great. That means people are helping us."

Number 2: Mental health emergencies

"This one kind of shocked me when I first got here," Brice said. "I saw more mental health calls in town than I have in my entire career in one concentration."

Brice blames difficult emotional and social situations created by the pandemic for the high number of mental health emergencies, which is close to the top of the list in the number of calls.

He said the department is partnering with other agencies and organizations in town to better understand and serve the needs of people in crisis or dealing with a mental health emergency.

"We have people out there who are specially trained to de-escalate and deal with these crises," he said.

Number 3: Alarm calls

Brice said this is another high-volume call generator, mostly because of so many false burglar alarms from homes or businesses. He said at least two officers are taken off the street and are not available to respond to a real emergency when they handle a false alarm.

"We are going to be reimplementing a false alarm program that will at some point have some sort of fees involved if you get a certain number. That is still being worked on right now," Brice said.

Number 4: Shoplifting/theft

This is a difficult area to police, Brice said, because retailers often have their own deterrents and policies in place for shoplifting.

He said roughly two dozen merchants in town have formed an advisory coalition that meets monthly with the police department and shares information about shoplifting trends, which are often associated with larger, statewide theft operations.

"Part of this coalition is for us to provide the vendors of the businesses training on better ways to deter (crime) or on how the investigations need to be handled and for businesses to share best practices as well as teach us how they want things done when we respond," Brice said.

He said prior to the formation of the coalition, some businesses were not even reporting shoplifting and simply absorbing them as a "cost of doing business."

Number 5: Missing persons

Brice said this is one of the department's more challenging issues since many people reported missing are runaways.

"The amount of resources that every runaway takes is very cumbersome because a detective has to be assigned, there has to be constant follow up, we have to put people out on the road looking for these people," Brice said.

"Often times, that's not just local. It moves out to other jurisdictions and sometimes out of state."

The department also uses night vision, drones, and other technology to help solve missing person cases which are sometimes made more difficult by people who do not want to be found.

Number 6: Vehicle collisions

In its first 10 months of service, Queen Creek officers made 5,685 traffic stops and issued 2,227 citations, far fewer than they could have issued.

"We hand out more warnings than we do citations and that's on purpose," Brice said. "It's not about generating tickets. It's about changing behavior. Our focus right now is to decrease the injuries."

Brice said just below community engagement, traffic is the department's number one priority and is continuing to add resources, including motorcycle officers who can get to places quickly and easily.

"This is one area where I know we need to expand quickly, so our next year's staffing will be focused heavily on adding traffic enforcement components."

He also said as the number of roads increases, collisions will decrease because there are multiple routes to the same destination, opening up traffic flow and reducing congestion.

Number 7: DUIs, other traffic-related crimes

Since the department's inception, Queen Creek officers have made close to 150 DUI arrests, according to Brice, a number he recently told Town Council will "triple if not quadruple" as the department adds more officers to take aim at DUIs, which he plans to do this year.

"We don't have a lot of collisions that are necessarily alcohol-related, which is great," he said. "So that means we are making an impact. We are getting the DUIs off the road before we have people that are injured, but we have had a few. One of our first fatals was alcohol-related."

The department received $153,000 in grants last fall from the governor's office of traffic safety to purchase vehicles and new technology to investigate DUI cases.

Number 8: Sex or child-related crimes

Brice said that these crimes are common not just in Queen Creek but in neighboring jurisdictions, and the frequency of calls means residents trust officers enough to report them.

"There's not a serial rapist or anything like that going around," Brice said. "We don't have the random rapes that are happening in other jurisdictions. These are known suspects for the most part that are committing these crimes. Whether it's a family member or a significant other or someone they met. These are people we know."

Brice called these extremely complex cases with very sensitive issues which take well-trained officers to gather evidence, working with schools, hospitals, and other partner agencies in town.

There are currently three detectives assigned to these types of issues, and more will be added, Brice said.

Number 9: Domestic violence

Brice said these types of cases are growing in tandem with the population increase.

He said the department is working to build rapport with the community, encouraging more people to call the police in these types of cases when they may not have in the past for fear of retribution from their partner, or of the cases being dismissed or never investigated due to a lack of officers.

"These are difficult cases and situations that people are in," Brice said. "These victims are sometimes reluctant to get out of that cycle. I guess the message out there is if you're involved in a domestic situation there are ways to improve your situation. There are people who care and we are here to help."

Number 10: Trespassing, disturbances, noise

Brice sees an increased number of calls in this category as a positive because people call, which Brice said builds trust between residents and officers.

Brice said noisy parties, trespassing violations or other non-violent offenses are also frequently reported, which allows officers to be proactive and

perhaps keep something from turning violent.

"Where we have problems is where if we don't get involved early and have a way to mitigate those smaller issues, they sometimes grow," Brice said. "We want that call early and often... if we can intercede early on in a lesser crime, then I'm happy."

Brice continues to remind people that, as has been the case since day one, the Queen Creek Police Department is focused first and foremost on community engagement and that he considers policing the town a partnership with residents.

"What we want the community to know is that you have a well-trained organization and we have the tools, we have the training and we have the great staff to respond to every call that you call us on," Brice said. "Community-focused all the time."

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