“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

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Featured Citizen, July 2023

Sound Policy, Safe Town

A Program for Every Season

A visit to OVPD’s website shows an impressive range of programs, including:

  • Citizen Academy
  • Citizen Volunteer Assistants Program (CVAP)
  • Dark House
  • Fingerprinting
  • Active Shooter Response
  • Dispose-A-Med Events
  • Community Outreach
  • Public Safety Cadets
  • Off-Duty Officers
  • Neighborhood Watch
  • OV Safe Return
  • Adopt-A-Business

“These aren’t just programs:  they reflect the overwhelming values of the department.”

The Dispose-A-Med program started because of a problem with heroin use among local kids.  “Where that started – when we traced it back – was kids getting hooked on Oxycontin from their family medical cabinets.  We needed to be proactive about getting those meds out of peoples’ medical cabinets.”

At the first Dispose-A-Med event, Chief Sharp describes being shocked:  literally hundreds of pounds of medication were being turned in.  The program was also tied to a Drug Awareness Day for kids in middle school.

The Dark House program allows OV residents who are going to be out-of-town for a while to have their house regularly checked on.

“The Dark House program has been around probably as long as the police department.  The volunteers took it to a whole new level.  They would even compete to see who could check the most houses!  As the community grew, the volunteers made it possible to cover the whole area.”

Extra-Ordinary Volunteers

“OVPD is not typical in terms of outreach.  Our successful Citizen Volunteers Assistants Program started under Chief Wolff.  I would have other police chiefs contact me and ask, ‘can you please provide the details of the program?’

“I would respond that I can provide you with the information so that you can replicate the program, but you can’t replicate the people in this community.  The volunteers in this community are fantastic.

“We had such a great pool of volunteers – people who wanted to work with the police and help the community.  We had high-paid execs, attorneys, dentists, nurses…these were often people who had been successful in their earlier career, but were retired and eager to do something.”

To show appreciation for volunteers, OVPD would throw an annual picnic, a holiday party, and an award ceremony for volunteers.

Understanding the Badge

The Citizen Academy program involves a serious commitment of 12 free classes, held once a week from 6-9 p.m.  The idea is to educate community members about what police officers do, and in turn, have these people spread their new-found knowledge in the community.

“How do people learn about what police do?  TV and movies.  We would get people from all parts of the department to talk about what really happens in a police agency…not something in a TV or movie.”

Chief Sharp gives a hypothetical example of how these ambassadors can help:

“People might see an 80-year-old person in a traffic stop with three officers.   Many people might ask, ‘why so many officers?’  It might be a trainee, a supervisor, and a translator.  Policing is labor-intensive work, and we spend a lot of money on these programs.”  Graduates of the Citizen Academy are able to explain these types of situations to others in the community, thus helping everyone see how the police force works in “real-life”.

Officers of the Future

When a city annexes additional land, this can put an additional burden on policing services that are already distributed throughout the community.  This is something Chief Sharp observed in his earlier service at Tucson PD, where new annexations kept surging ahead of the growth of the force.  OV does not have a property tax, so when the town grows, there is no proportional growth in funding for public services.

“When you can have a higher population with no increase in budget, you need to look five years out…. When we were going to annex Oracle/Magee, I went to the town leadership and explained that if we add funds for an additional police officer, it can take a year to fill that position.  The rule of thumb is, ‘it takes a year to make a cop.’   I said, ‘this is the number of officers I will need to patrol this area.’”

Thanks to Chief Sharp’s ability to communicate this need to the mayor and town council, new officers were ready to be deployed within a week of the new annexation.

Many Stripes

Chief Sharp is the recipient of the 2013 Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce Legacy Award.  He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Oro Valley Hospital. Sharp currently serves on the Law Enforcement Executives Advisory Committee for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) National Board. He was recently appointed to Chair the Pima County Adult Detention Center Blue Ribbon Commission to make recommendations regarding the jail facilities in Pima County.

By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.