Jan. 5, 2005 - Oro Valley hopes to be more proactive when it comes to crime fighting with the promotion of six police officers that took affect this week.
The promotions include the addition of three police lieutenants to the force, and will be the first time the department has had middle management in place in more than a decade.
Police Chief Danny Sharp said that, with these new positions, he hopes to be able to implement programs that he, and others in the department, have been developing but unable to coordinate because of the lack of staff to oversee such ventures.
Sharp has been working on ideas for an array of programs, he said, but with himself and the commanders taking on so many daily activities, he has not been able to get them started.
For example, he said "a high priority" for him is to come up with innovative ways to address problems with teen driving that have received much attention throughout the last year.
And with continued development in the town, Sharp said he would like to start a business watch program to assure safety to the area's businesses and patrons.
"Until now we have been able to keep up with what is happening, but now we hope to be even more proactive," he said of the larger staff.
Oro Valley is known for its low crime rates, particularly in the category of violent crimes. The town has not had a homicide since 2001 and also has a small number of assaults reported annually.
Programs such as the dark house watch, where police monitor homes while owners are away, are in place to address problems with thefts and burglaries, which is where the highest number of incidents are reported in the town.
Sharp said the mission of the OVPD is to do more than respond to incidents when they occur, and has placed crime prevention at the top of the list of department goals.
But at the rate at which the town, and subsequently, the force, continue to grow, it has become more difficult to do that forward planning.
When Sharp joined the department five years ago, there were 62 commissioned officers. Today there are 87.
The last time a command position was added, in 1991, there were 38 total police department employees, and that number grew to 120 in 2004, but despite this boom, no more middle managers were hired to help coordinate the growth.
Chief Sharp and two commanding officers, Cmdrs. Larry Stevens and Charlie Lenter, have been heading the group alone.
But more positions means a bigger payroll and so the addition of lieutenants boiled down to a budgetary issue for years.
Former police chief and council member Werner Wolff had asked for more management positions when he was heading the department and when Sharp took over the position, he too, requested the expanded staff.
Sharp said the budget request for three lieutenants was denied for at least four years, but this year, the council finally gave the thumbs up.
The new positions have a salary range of between $59,801 and $89,702, and according to the human resources department, the lieutenants were hired near the midpoint, at around $74,752.
After going through the assessment process, Oro Valley was able to promote two of its own sergeants to lieutenants, Jason Larter and Aaron Lesuer. Ed Schaefer, the third lieutenant, comes to Oro Valley from the Tucson Police Department.
The promotion of the two Oro Valley sergeants left two positions open, and an additional sergeant's position also was left vacant by a retirement. OVPD officers Andrew Lopez, Kathy Ingulli and Curt Hicks were promoted to fill those positions.
Public Information Officer Becky Mendez said there was a three-day off site assessment of the applicants for the new positions, which was developed by Sam Weiss, director of the Central Arizona Regional Law Officers Training Academy, in Coolidge, which Oro Valley uses for most of its officer training.
Mendez said the application process was given much thought to assure fairness and equal opportunity for anyone who was interested.
"For us in Oro Valley, six promotions is a pretty big deal," Mendez said.
Commanders from other Arizona cities, including Phoenix and Surprise, as well as an Oro Valley citizen, were asked to help choose the most qualified candidate. Anyone with three years experience or more as a sergeant was eligible to apply.
The department accepted both internal and external applications for the positions. Sharp said there were 18 total applicants with 14 coming from outside the department.
A promotion ceremony to officially announce the staff changes was held Dec. 30 in the town council chambers. Friends and family of the officers and Oro Valley employees were invited to celebrate the changes and Sharp presented each of the six officers with new badges and plaques recognizing the promotions.
"When you consider the small percentage of people in this country who wear a badge, you realize how competitive this field is," Sharp told a full house at the ceremony. "And then to be able to make six promotions, I think this is going to be a wonderful thing for this community."
Sharp spoke highly of all the individuals chosen for the new positions.
Two of three lieutenants have been employed with the OVPD throughout their careers and look forward to the challenges of this step up, they said.
Lesuer lived here as a child, but moved to Oregon after grade school.
When he was 21 years old, he returned to Oro Valley with the specific goal of becoming an Oro Valley police officer.
He wanted to wear the blues so much, he was even willing to work for a while as an unpaid reserve in order to get his foot in the door of the department, and after time, got on the payroll.
He worked his way through the ranks as far as he could, but was in limbo as a sergeant, with the logjam that has existed at the managerial level of OVPD for more than a decade.
When he heard that the department had lieutenant positions approved this year, he applied and went through the assessment process.
"For the obvious reason that I want to further my career, but also, to hopefully make a difference," he said of his reasons for wanting to move up the ranks. As a sergeant, Lesuer worked to develop professional standards, recruit new officers and oversaw internal affairs.
The promotion ceremony was a proud moment for Lesuer, and in the audience as he received his new badge was his dad and stepmother, coming from out of town, his step-grandmother and his sisters and brother.
"It's going to be a new experience, a learning experience," he said. "I'm just excited to get started."
Newly dubbed Lt. Larter joined the department around the same time as Lesuer, with Oro Valley also being his department of choice. It was the only department he tested with after completing the police academy and he was hired full-time in 1988.
He, too, applied to be a lieutenant because "it's something new and exciting."
"This will take the department to the next level," he said of the changes. "The command staff now just has a ton of tasks to do. This will be good for communication with the troops."
By the end of next year, the department will approach 100 officers, and Larter said that makes the Oro Valley Police Department a large-scale operation, even compared with others nationwide.
"Oro Valley is definitely up and coming," he said.
But even as it grows, Larter said what impresses him the most is that the men and women who work there have stayed a family.
"You know everyone. You're not just a name and a number," he said.
As a sergeant, Larter was in charge of homeland security in Oro Valley and coordinated the police efforts with the activities of other town departments. He also worked as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education school resource officer and oversaw the K-9 unit.
With the promotion, Larter now will be overseeing the patrol unit which will keep him out of the office most of the time.
"I think the officers on the street need to see you," he said of his approach to this new duty. "You need to be out there, talking to them, hearing their concerns. I think as the patrol lieutenant, you should be the voice for them." He also will remain the head of homeland security operations.
Schaefer joins OVPD after having served with the Tucson Police Department for just shy of 32 years. He worked as a sergeant there for 23 years, and will be overseeing patrol units in Oro Valley.
Schaefer was in the drop program at TPD, scheduled to retire July 1, 2006. He said when he found out Oro Valley was looking for lieutenants, he thought, "it was a primo opportunity to work where I have a vested interest." He has lived in Oro Valley for 13 years.