Efficient policing must engage the community

The Tucson Police Department (TPD), like other law enforcement agencies, is fully committed to protecting our communities and enforcing the law. As public servants, we are responsible for maintaining the trust of the communities we swore to serve and protect. Our job as law enforcement leaders requires that we strike a balance between enforcing the law and keeping the public’s trust. This is particularly true in the Arizona border region, where state and federal laws, and various agencies and their respective immigration policies often create confusion in the communities we serve and protect. 

I have been an outspoken critic of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 from the onset. As the Chief of Police for the City of Tucson, I was one of the first police chiefs to take a public stance against SB 1070. The efforts of the TPD to bridge the gap between our community and our police force have not been limited to public pronouncements. We have taken concrete steps to stay connected to our communities, despite the negative effects of state mandated immigration laws. 

The Tucson Police Department conducted a half-day of training for all officers when SB 1070 was first enacted.  This was substantially more than the 90 minute video that was mandated by the state.  In addition, we began to bolster basic training and advanced officer training modules in the areas of bias-based policing in October 2014, utilizing Dr. Lorie Fridell, a former Director of Research for the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and a nationally recognized expert who has received nationwide acclaim for the “Fair and Impartial Policing” program she has developed. The program recognizes that all persons have internal bias that must be taken into consideration when dealing with others;particularly when those interactions involve someone who is coming from a position of authority. 

The reality of border communities requires that all law enforcement agencies, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), uphold accountability and transparency as the best tools to gain and maintain the trust of our residents. That is why I applaud the efforts of CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske towards a more transparent agency. His vision of an improved CBP, the largest law-enforcement agency in the nation, is better for CBP as a whole, and for the safety and well-being of my community; working together, we will continue to keep our nation safe.

As the president and Congress continue to debate immigration reform, it is crucial that national policy makers consult with southern border communities and local law enforcement to ensure that the efforts to improve community relations are not overshadowed by policies and practices that do not reflect the best values of our society. 

I will continue to work with law enforcement leaders and policymakers at all levels to ensure that we live up the highest standards of professionalism, accountability and oversight. Upholding the laws of the land is our mission; gaining and maintaining the trust of our communities must also be our joint responsibility.

A native of Tucson, Villaseñor joined the TPD in 1980 and became chief in 2009.