Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, a longtime and proud Oro Valley resident, said it simply and well.
“Show me a good community, and I’ll show you a good police department,” Napier told the Oro Valley Town Council, staff and a packed house May 8.
Oro Valley is a great community, with a great police department. Statistically, last year, Oro Valley was the safest community in Arizona. At our chamber, we share that accolade with enthusiasm.
But there are cracks in the Oro Valley Police Department’s ability to serve. The number of sworn officers in Oro Valley is essentially the same as it was in 2008, when we had no less than 6,000 fewer residents, and Northwest Tucson was a smaller, less busy place. Through the big recession, and a subsequent run of job and population growth, our investment in the OVPD has been relatively flat.
It’s not a crisis; let’s call it creeping erosion. We pride ourselves on community policing, but we’re doing less of that efficient, vital, proactive contact. Response times are slipping. And, thus far in 2019, OVPD has actually “canceled” more than 440 calls, minor requests for help.
“We just don’t have anybody to go,” Chief Daniel Sharp said. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”
And, for Oro Valley, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Our elected officials can do something about this, of course, by adding money to the police department in the 2019-20 budget now in development. Our chamber argues there are good business reasons to invest more money in police officers. And we should view it as exactly that; an investment, not a cost, something that will show an indirect return for the good of all. Consider:
Existing businesses appreciate high quality public safety. “I’ve worked at stores in Tucson,” the young manager of a major Oro Valley retailer told me. “There’s a big difference.” In Tucson, police “response times are definitely not as fast.” In Tucson, when a merchant reports shoplifting to police, “we felt like the bottom of the totem pole.” In Tucson, there were times she felt personally threatened. But not in Oro Valley. The cops show up.
Business at that retailer is “very good,” she said. That’s not coincidental. Among our many attributes, a high standard of public safety attracts affluent residents and visitors who shop here because they find what they need, and feel safe spending money.
People looking to move to Southern Arizona always focus on Oro Valley’s public safety. At the chamber office, we often share a one-page Oro Valley demographics and accolades sheet with the steady stream of winter visitors and guests who think about moving to our town. Smack in the middle of that page, we proclaim (and attribute) Oro Valley’s rank as the “safest town in Arizona.” It’s a selling point. Last year, I showed it to a lady and her husband looking to relocate from Tacoma. “That’s all I need to know,” she replied. “That’s all I need to know.” High-quality public safety helps to attract our eventual residential replacements.
Oro Valley government has a stated intent to examine and pursue beneficial annexations. That makes sense. Annexations can generate the sales tax revenue upon which we depend to run government.
When we think about annexation, particularly to our south, the obvious question for a property owner and tenant is…why? Why should I agree to come into the Town of Oro Valley, with a higher sales tax rate and a more restrictive regulatory environment? One of the community’s responses must be this: “We have outstanding public safety. We patrol regularly. When you call a cop, you get a cop, and quickly.”
Oro Valley can’t lose sight of its collective need to invest in law enforcement. Public safety is a universal benefit for our citizens and businesses alike, one with long-term, far-reaching and sometimes indirect benefits. Said one chamber member: “This is the one item that will separate and continue to elevate Oro Valley as a home and business destination for years to come.”
Let’s find the money to invest in our police department. When we do, we’ll see Oro Valley continue to thrive.
Dave Perry is the President and CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce.