Where is home for police? Most officers live outside their jurisdiction

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When the Daily Independent obtained residential ZIP code data for sworn officers of the Gilbert Police Department, there had to be more to the fact that one of the agency’s officers had a California ZIP code, implying he lives in the state west of Arizona.

There was. But no, it did not involve a private jet to and from work.

“Regarding this employee I just checked his records and he was living at that California address when he applied to our department,” Gilbert police Sgt. Bill Balafas told the Daily Independent. “I tried to check and see where he currently lives, but he is on regular days off right now. I am making an assumption that he has since moved to Arizona and his records have not been updated. We sent him human resource paperwork asking for an address update.”

While law enforcement officers are not required to reside in the city or town of their jurisdiction, a commute from California seemed too far and long to be true. Even if that officer were to work a certain number of consecutive days and then head for the beaches.

Then the Daily Independent obtained data from Glendale, and found two sworn officials had Massachusetts ZIP codes. An even farther drive. That too, was cleared up.

“We have two officers that are currently in the military and on Active Guard Reserve orders,” Glendale Sgt. John Roth stated. “Both of them have Massachusetts zip codes.”

Discounting those three, there appears to be a 100% Arizona residency record for the sworn officers of cities that provided data via public records requests.

However, not all officers live in the jurisdiction of their agency of employment. In an analysis of ZIP code data from eight agencies, the Daily Independent learned nearly three out of every four officers, 74.3%, live outside of their jurisdiction.

Obtaining records

The Daily Independent in April requested the ZIP codes of residence for sworn officers of municipal police departments in the Valley, minus Apache Junction, El Mirage, Paradise Valley and Tolleson.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety were not requested since those agencies cover more than just one municipality.

Avondale, Buckeye, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Peoria, Phoenix and Surprise provided data. Goodyear, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe responded to public records requests, but indicated they didn’t have a document containing the requested information and could not proceed with the request.

City of residence was determined by what community a ZIP code is registered to. For example, 85308 is a Glendale ZIP code but includes parts of Phoenix.

While not providing records, Tempe police Chief Sylvia Moir responded to questions on how her agency’s officers handle living in and out of the city.

Where do officers live?

When off-duty, a Chandler officer might be hanging out in the Avondale area. Or in the case of a Peoria officer, he or she might be strolling the parks of Mesa.

For one Peoria officer, he or she may not be a Valley resident, but a Tucsonian, according to data. That’s a roughly 160-mile drive one-way between Tucson and the main station for the agency in Old Town Peoria.

While Officer Brandon Sheffert said he is not aware who that officer may be, he said it may be likely the officer has another residence in the Valley. Which, like the Gilbert officer, may likely be the case. Regardless of where they live in the Valley, those officers are members of their communities.

The hottest spot for officers in the Peoria ZIP code of 85383 — which includes the northern parts of Peoria, like Vistancia — with 321 officers. The 30 most populous ZIP codes account for 2,856, or 62.2%, of all officers. There were 161 Arizona ZIP codes and three out-of-state ZIP codes involved.

Top 10 Hot Spots for Officers

85383 (Peoria) — 321
85379 (Surprise) — 184
85338 (Goodyear) — 138
85086 (North Phoenix) — 135
85142 (Mesa) — 129
85308 (Glendale) — 126
85388 (Surprise) — 123
85382 (Peoria) — 118
85083 (North Phoenix) — 98
85298/85296 (Gilbert) — 96
Note: Only considers 8 agencies providing data

The data also showed how many sworn officers live in their agency’s jurisdiction.

In Surprise, about 55% of its sworn officers reside in the city, the highest rate of any agency providing data. Gilbert is second with 40.5%. Glendale is the lowest at 13.4%. That takes into account that some officers residing in the 85308 ZIP code registered to Glendale may actually live in Phoenix.

The Phoenix Police Department, which serves the largest city in the Valley, has over 3,000 sworn officers. However, Phoenix officers are more likely to reside in communities outside their jurisdiction. Some 215 officers live in the Peoria ZIP code of 85383, the most Phoenix officers in any ZIP code, according to data.

In fact, seven of the top 10 ZIP codes Phoenix officers reside in are Peoria, Glendale and Goodyear ZIP codes. The other three are far north Phoenix and Anthem, past Loop 101. Those 10 account for 30% of Phoenix officers. The next 70 ZIP codes, with anywhere between 10 and 55 officers, are occupied by 60.4% of the department.

Avondale, which is comprised of mainly the 85323 and 85392 ZIP codes, only has 17 of its 118 sworn officers residing in the city. Meanwhile, 23 live in the Goodyear ZIP code of 85338 while 13 live in the Buckeye ZIP code of 85326.

Chiefs living in their communities

El Mirage police Chief Paul Marzocca, who joined the department in 2018, lives in Litchfield Park, roughly five miles from his agency’s main station.

Glendale police Chief Rick St. John is a native of his city, living a short distance from where he was raised.

“Living in Glendale, traveling the roadways, eating and shopping at the local businesses, and engaging in my neighborhood gives me a good sense of what most Glendale residents experience,” he said. “Of course, Glendale is such a diverse community I feel compelled to actively engage communities and residents in every region of our city to best understand what they need and expect from us as their local law enforcement and public safety provider.”

Gilbert police Chief Michael Soelberg, who has been a resident of the town since 1995, said he and hundreds of other officers from numerous state and local agencies call Gilbert home.

“The more familiar you are with your community the easier it is to understand their culture and needs, but these same attributes can be learned while working in your community,” Mr. Soelberg, who became chief in 2017, told the Daily Independent. “You do not have to live in the same community in which you work.

"Gilbert is an amazing place to live and work and we encourage everyone to live and work in the area that best meets their personal and professional needs.”

Moving around the Valley

Agencies that were asked why officers choose to live where they do had a similar mindset.

Officers are likely making personal decisions between themselves and their families. Those needs might include a spouse’s employer or schools for their children.

“I believe all of our officers are connected with our community regardless of where they reside,” Mr. Sheffert said. “We have a large amount of officers who have chosen to live in our great city. There are many variables as to why an officer may choose to live elsewhere, this could include family obligations, a spouse’s employer, personal choice, affordability and many other reasons.”

He added its possible those living further from the Valley may keep a second residence.

Gilbert Sgt. Bill Balafas said being a resident and employee could be helpful for many reasons. However, he said, many employees find living outside their jurisdiction provides a sense of personal and work life balance that equally makes them a better employee and officer when on duty.

“Just like any other profession or citizen, our officers when off duty are looking for a place to live, raise our kids, participate in their school events, go to the movies and live a peaceful and productive life.”

As far as the Valley is concerned, one thing that may make it easier for police officials and the public to travel between the east and west is the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway Extension, which is set to open in 2020.

The extension is also a possible encouragement for prospective applicants living on one end of the Valley to consider employment on the other side.

“Our hope is always to attract and hire the best candidates from Arizona and abroad,” Mr. Balafas said. “An easier commute to and from Gilbert will hopefully attract additional applicants from Phoenix and the West Valley.”

Some positions require close residency

Because there are no requirements for Peoria officers, the agency does not get involved with advising officers where to live.

However, Mr. Sheffert said some of the agency’s specialty units that investigate fatal crashes or major incidents have a required response time upon being called out, and those requirements are part of the qualifications for the specific assignment.

“So an officer outside of that range would not apply for the position,” Mr. Sheffert said.

Other agencies have varying policies.

For example, Tempe prohibits mandating employees below the position of director to live in the city.

Chief Sylvia Moir, who resides in Tempe, said her agency has several opportunities to build relationships with residents during regular shifts and after-hours. Those include proactive engagement in athletics, sponsoring youth in summer camps, or providing aid to people exposed to acute trauma. 

“Some of what we do is reflected in how we are programmed to serve and connect with people, largely it is how we demonstrate who we are as we safeguard people,” Ms. Moir said. “We meet people where they live, sponsoring athletic events, summer camps, citizen police academies and host a youth cadet post. We connect with private business, religious entities, cultural centers, and neighborhood groups.

“Other important ways to connect involve conducting abundant surveys, hosting citizen review boards for accountability, and creating an enduring culture of Fair and Impartial policing where our character is revealed on every police-community contact.”

Ms. Moir said her proximity to events that shape the Tempe community is easier from a time management perspective, but she does not think it alters the way she leads her agency.

But, she said because of her position, being in and around Tempe has actually created some barriers.

“There are individuals who work to confront and provoke officials such as police chiefs during off-duty events such as personal shopping for groceries and eating out with family,” she added.

Agencies stress community engagement

Police departments encourage their employees to be involved in the community both on-duty and off-duty.

In Peoria, officers engage with citizens on the street, attend HOA and neighborhood meetings, and host events like GAIN, National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, the Citizen’s Academy, and the Youth Citizen Academy.

In Gilbert, Mr. Balafas said each interaction his agency’s employees have with a member of the community is an opportunity to improve community engagement.

“We strive to treat everyone with respect, listen and show empathy for each person we come into contact with,” he said. “Our employees follow our Town’s mission statement which is to, ‘Anticipate. Create. Help People.’ We are here to help the community and do our best to provide professional services to everyone we come into contact with.”

Sgt. John Roth, who also serves as a PIO for the Glendale Police Department, said his agency takes great pride in employing personnel that embody the values of the department.

“Our employees, both sworn and non-sworn have chosen this profession due to their desire to contribute to the community and help those in need,” he stated. “These personal attributes do not end when they leave work; these values are who they are which continue to influence their actions in their personal lives and communities.”

He said the agency encourages its employees to become involved in their communities both on and off duty. Under the leadership of Chief St. John, officers have been highly encouraged to exit their marked patrol vehicles and interact face-to-face with the community.

“This knocks down barriers and makes the officers more approachable to those that may be apprehensive in interacting with police officers,” Mr. Roth said. “Year round, representatives from the police department are also involved in communities across the Valley as they engage with the residents at various events, gatherings and meetings.”

Off-duty police can still arrest

When off duty, Arizona peace officers still maintain arrest authority throughout the state.

However, the Gilbert Police Department said its expectation of off-duty officers when observing crime is to call 911, report the crime to local agencies, and be a good witness.

“The exception to this expectation is when immediate action by the off duty officer is necessary to prevent a crime of violence where there is a risk of serious injury, death, or risk to public safety if the suspect is not immediately apprehended,” Mr. Balafas said, “And if the officer’s actions do not create unreasonable risk to family members or the public.”

A recent example occurred in May, when an off-duty Phoenix officer at a fast food restaurant aided a Goodyear officer in detaining a man reportedly causing a disturbance at the location. Police said the man threatened harm against the officers.

Like fire agencies, law enforcement agencies operate under a mutual-aid agreement where neighboring on-duty departments provide help in the event of an emergency.

“It is far quicker to use on duty personal from neighboring agencies to mitigate emergencies,” Mr. Balafas said. “We are thankful to have benefited from the help of almost every agency in the East Valley when called upon, as well as Phoenix PD, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“If needed, we call in officers and detectives from off duty status to take over prolonged situations.”

Glendale police also wants remind the public that while the majority of officers are always willing to help, calling 911 or their local police non-emergency number is the best way to report an emergency.

Mr. Roth said a citizen might see an off-duty as their personal neighborhood security guard and primary point of contact should they need the police.

“Officers have taken on a ‘duty to act’ should there be an emergency that the officer can safely address without placing himself or others at undue risk,” Mr. Roth stated. “However, the tools and means necessary may not be at the officers disposal while off duty to address the issue or threat.”

He also noted that officers don’t have the ethical right to use law enforcement databases for the purpose of personal gain. That means the officer can’t provide citizens — outside of a criminal justice investigation or purpose — with things like motor vehicle information, crime history on a house, or the arrest history of a person.

“Police officers, in general, are welcome neighbors for the majority of the community given the profession that they have chosen and the values that they uphold,” Mr. Roth stated. “The majority of the time, having an officer as a neighbor will benefit the neighborhood as a crime deterrent, a source of advice or expertise and a darn good barometer or witness should there be something awry in your neighborhood.”

Reporter Chris Caraveo can be reached at 623-876-2531 or ccaraveo@newszap.com.

Top 7 ZIP Codes for Officers by Department

Avondale

85338 (Goodyear) – 23
85326 (Buckeye) – 14
85323 (Avondale) – 9
85395 (Goodyear) – 8
85340 (Litchfield Park/Unincorporated Maricopa County) – 6
85383 (Peoria) – 6

Buckeye

85396 (Buckeye) – 18
85326 (Buckeye) – 17
85338 (Goodyear) – 13
85355 (Waddell/Unincorporated Maricopa County) – 5
85379 (Surprise) – 4
85392 (Avondale) – 4
85395 (Goodyear) – 4

Chandler

85142 (Queen Creek) – 40
85298 (Gilbert/ Unincorporated Maricopa County) – 32
85249 (Chandler) – 28
85296 (Gilbert) – 18
85225 (Chandler) – 17
85286 (Chandler) – 17
85297 (Gilbert) – 16

Gilbert

85142 (Queen Creek) – 37
85298 (Gilbert/Unincorporated Maricopa County) – 24
85296 (Gilbert) – 22
85295 (Gilbert) – 18
85140 (San Tan Valley/ Unincorporated Pinal County) – 14
85212 (Mesa) – 13
85297 (Gilbert) – 13

Glendale

85383 (Peoria) – 47
85379 (Surprise) – 43
85382 (Peoria) – 40
85388 (Surprise) – 26
85308 (Glendale) – 25
85340 (Litchfield Park/ Unincorporated Maricopa County) – 21
85338 (Goodyear) – 20

Peoria

85383 (Peoria) – 43
85388 (Surprise) – 17
85379 (Surprise) – 13
85382 (Peoria) – 13
85345 (Peoria) – 11
85308 (Glendale) – 8
85086 (North Phoenix/Anthem) – 7

Phoenix

85383 (Peoria) – 215
85086 (Anthem) – 121
85308 (Glendale) – 89
85379 (Surprise) – 89
85083 (North Phoenix) – 82
85338 (Goodyear) – 71
85085 (North Phoenix) – 67
85395 (Goodyear) – 66
85310 (Glendale) – 64
85382 (Peoria) – 60

Surprise

85379 (Surprise) – 34
85388 (Surprise) – 21
85374 (Surprise) – 15
85383 (Peoria) – 9
85355 (Waddell/Unincorporated Maricopa County) – 7
85387 (Surprise) – 6
85338 (Goodyear) – 4

Oddities

85747 (Tucson) – Peoria PD
86004 (Flagstaff) – Glendale PD
86327 (Dewey Humboldt area) – Glendale PD
01022 (Hampden MA) – Glendale PD
01852 (Middlesex MA) – Glendale PD
85544 (Young/Gila County) – Gilbert PD
91906 (Campos CA) – Gilbert PD

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