By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Apache Junction, Ariz.) — Chief Mike Pooley arrived at the Apache Junction Police Department in January to take up his new position. Upon starting his duties as police chief, one of the first things Pooley noticed was that his new department had some technological catching-up to do.
"Newer equipment makes things better and safer for our officers," Pooley told NewsBreak.
In response, Pooley began working with local leadership to develop a plan to "modernize" the city's police department. Using $326,447.56 allotted to Apache Junction by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, city police last month began receiving a shipment of 60 new Tasers to replace older stun guns as well as 70 new body-worn cameras — nearly six times the number of cameras currently available to Apache Junction police.
In addition to more than $300,000 of ARPA-funded equipment, Pooley said the Apache Junction City Council also approved new handguns for the department, which Pooley claims are "more accurate" than previously issued weapons.
Most of the equipment is expected to reach the department by the end of next month.
Apache Junction city manager Bryant Powell told NewsBreak that the funds — and the new gear purchased with them — help the city get closer to reaching its public safety goals.
"We believe our community's ready, and (the new equipment) will enhance civility between our residents and authorities," he said via phone. "Because of the clarity of the body cameras, there could be quicker resolutions to issues, and allow more accountability (as well as) a better opportunity to build trust with our residents."
The state of play in Apache Junction
The violent crime rate in growing Apache Junction remains low, according to NeighborhoodScout statistics that show fewer than three instances of murder, rape, robbery, or assault per 1,000 residents.
The nearly 40,000 residents of this city straddling the border between Pinal and Maricopa counties are more likely to experience some form of property crime compared to violent crimes. The rate of burglary and theft (including motor vehicle theft) is roughly 20 cases for every 1,000 people.
Powell said Apache Junction police also often respond to domestic violence and substance abuse calls. Opioid addiction, especially to the synthetic fentanyl, has become a major issue for authorities statewide.
"A longstanding policy of our city council is to (promote) domestic violence awareness," he said. "Training staff (and) de-escalating family disputes relating to substance abuse correlates closely to our work with Horizon Health and Wellness. A vast majority of (Apache Junction PD) calls are from that world."
"We have to be a professional police agency"
Pooley said his officers are "super excited" about the new gear, and the police chief hopes new body cameras will promote better transparency and accountability within the Apache Junction PD. The city was sued in Pinal County Superior Court last month by local man Karl Williams, who has alleged his apprehension on charges of resisting arrest and hindering prosecution occurred after he filmed Apache Junction police at a gas station located near the Superstition Freeway.
"(Body cams) show exactly what our officers are doing, the interactions they're having, how they're treating people and how they're being treated. They show a side of the officers that most people don't see," Pooley said. "Every officer out on the street is going to be issued a body-worn camera. They're going to be required to turn it on when interacting with the public or responding to service calls."
Pooley said a body camera will be issued to each of the Apache Junction PD's officers, sergeants, and lieutenants. Pooley does not expect all scenario-based training sessions for Taser usage will take much longer than one full day, with the focus centered on technical specifications and ensuring officers know where best to position the Taser so as not to confuse it for a lethal handgun.
Although newer officers might take to the new body cams and Tasers more quickly, Pooley expects a learning curve among the department's veteran officers, especially in relation to the cameras.
"Some of our officers have been here 25-plus years and policing without a body camera. Just remembering to turn that on is going to be a challenge, especially in a high-stress situation," he said. "A lot of that comes in training, just the mechanics of pushing the button two times with your hand when you're en route."
Pooley is hesitant to describe the new equipment as a harbinger of reform in a department of fewer than 80 officers policing a community of approximately 40,000. But he believes it brings the Apache Junction PD to a "necessary" to police in 2022.
"Apache Junction is not a small city anymore," he said. "We have to be a professional police agency where our officers are held accountable, but where they have the tools to do the best, (most) professional job necessary. That's expected by the public."
City manager Powell, who has been Apache Junction's top public administrator since 2015, said his office has received positive feedback from the community about the upgraded equipment coming into the police department.
"Most agencies our size have had (this gear) in for some time," he said. "Now we have the ability and capacity to train everybody and roll it out."