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Fri, Oct. 18

Cops make it personal with neighborhood policing program

Cottonwood Police K-9 officer Cory Shilling walks Kratos toward spectators at the department’s recent National Night Out event. Shilling, Kratos and other officers have been assigned to one of nine neighborhood zones in order to help build more of a sense of ownership between citizens and CPD. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Cottonwood Police K-9 officer Cory Shilling walks Kratos toward spectators at the department’s recent National Night Out event. Shilling, Kratos and other officers have been assigned to one of nine neighborhood zones in order to help build more of a sense of ownership between citizens and CPD. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

COTTONWOOD — The Cottonwood Police Department has divided the city into nine areas in order to give officers and citizens more ownership of their neighborhoods.

It’s all part of the department’s efforts to help identify and respond to neighborhood concerns, crime trends, issues and problems. While department leadership still expects citizens to call the non-emergency line or 911 as appropriate, relationships have long been considered a critical part of police work — but the Cottonwood Police now have that broken down to each officer.

Commander Gareth Braxton said the days of simply responding to calls for service are long gone.

“Connectivity, among officers and agencies, and between police and the community, is a big key to public safety,” Braxton said. “If we’re consistent with a proactive approach, you’d be amazed how many problems we can spot before they even really materialize.”

Each of the nine neighborhood zones has at least one officer assigned to it. Residents can find a page on the Cottonwood Police Dept. home page within cottonwoodaz.gov, where an email button for each officer is located, along with a map. Email directly to neighborhood officers encourages citizens to be more direct and comfortable speaking to an officer who knows their street and area, but it also creates a digital record of concerns and communication.

Braxton said email communication between citizens and their neighborhood officers is a big part of the effort, but that’s no substitute for in-person contact; each officer is still expected to spend time in their assigned neighborhoods, getting to know the residents in person.

Kratos, a police canine, along with his K-9 officer, Cory Shilling, and officer Matt Strickland, are assigned to Neighborhood No. 5, which covers a west-central part of the city, along West State Route 89A. Other neighborhoods are more oddly shaped, and some only have one officer assigned to it at present.

The emphasis is not strictly residential. Officers are directed to get to know all business owners and staff in their areas as well.

Braxton said trends, risks and other situations can be detected from the good relationships officers are expected to develop in their assigned areas. This information could benefit the department and the city and other jurisdictions, as it contributes to decisions such as where to patrol more, what sort of suspicious activity to watch for, or what time or day of the week.

“One priority is to be responsive to concerns — not just in the moment, but as a team, to focus on patterns or ongoing concerns,” Braxton said.

The commander said the breakdown of areas and emphasis on proactive communication with citizens is not part of special program; no funding or specific tracking or reports are associated with it.

City Manager Ron Corbin, when asked if adding more officers overall was a priority, said it is not. However, he said he’d like to help Chief Steve Gesell with some unfilled non-patrol positions. For example, the city’s website lists no one in the evidence division.

Braxton said being proactive and engaging with citizens is a permanent change.

“It’s part of transformation in how we think and what we do,” he said. “It’s an entire paradigm shift.”

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