Working the beat on Christmas Eve in Peoria

Peoria Police Office Dean Hodges confers with fellow Officer Michael Kane while on patrol in the department’s District 20, which covers south of Grand Avenue. (Cecilia Chan/Independent Newsmedia)

By Cecilia Chan
Independent Newsmedia

The dispatch call came in at about 6:48 p.m. — family dispute at a south Peoria residence.

Officer Dean Hodges and fellow officers arrive to the home decked with holiday cheer and are met by a heavy-set man in the driveway, the aroma of Christmas Eve dinner wafting through the open front door.

The man claims an argument during dinner preparation led to his wife yanking his ponytail, wrestling him to the floor and hitting him. She then proceeded to wreck the kitchen and then his office after she discovered her iPad was broken and blamed him for it, he says. It was after she threatened to kill him that he called 911. They’ve been married for 20 years.

The woman, in her 50s, is arrested, handcuffed and compliantly sits in the back of Officer’s Hodge’s patrol car for the ride to the department’s prisoner processing area before she is transported to Maricopa County’s 4th Avenue Jail. She faces one count of assault and one count of criminal damage.

This is the second of back-to-back domestic violence calls of the day for Officer Hodges, who’s worked every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day since he joined the Peoria Police Department almost three years ago.

During the holiday season, the calls are mostly domestic violence, shoplifting, accidents and suicides, Officer Hodges said.

“Last year we had three (suicides) on Christmas Day,” he added.

Officer Hodges works the swing shift, from 1:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., and patrols what is called District 20, which covers south of Grand Avenue.

“This is considered the busiest squad and the busiest area,” he said. “This shift we average 13-plus calls. But it could go either way from nothing happening to going call to call. It depends on people’s moods.”

And on some days, he could drive up to 200 miles during a shift if he is responding to calls in other districts.

The night before, he drove to Quartzsite, less than 20 miles from the California border, in search of a Peoria homicide suspect. The last ping off the man’s cellphone placed him near the desert town. Officer Hodges and fellow officers got off every exit along the way in case the suspect left the highway.

Later that night, alert U.S. Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint on Interstate 8 in Yuma County detained Anthony Kupreisis, 30, suspected of fatally stabbing Jeffrey Falesch, 57, at a residence in the 6700 block of W. El Cortez , north of Happy Valley Road, police said. Yuma County Sheriff’s deputies took custody of the suspect, who is expected to be transported back to the Valley this week.

Domestic disputes are one of the deadliest type of calls for police. Tempers are heated, behaviors are unpredictable and weapons are sometimes involved.

Sunday’s calls for Officer Hodges included two domestic disturbances, a hit-and-run on Grand Avenue, accidental 911 hang ups at a residence, back up for Maricopa County deputies at a reported home invasion in Sun City that turned out to be a burglary and a chase of a stolen vehicle that ended up across from the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 10580 N. 83rd Drive.

“I’ve not been shot yet,” said Officer Hodges. “But I’ve responded to calls that I was 100 percent certain I would get into a shooting and that has happened a lot.”

Every day when the young father of a 5-month-old girl leaves for his shift, he thinks it could be his last on the streets.

“If I didn’t think that, I would be concerned for myself,” he said. “Because I’ve become complacent, and I’m not OK with that.”

Officer Hodges was born in the Sunnyslope area of west Phoenix but grew up in North Peoria. Previously, he worked for the city of Peoria’s special events and recreations until a Phoenix cop he knew told him he would make a good officer and suggested he look into police work.

Officer Hodges could go to a larger department but Peoria Police affords him more opportunities. He tested and got on the Special Weapons and Tactics Team and received his SWAT team pin 10 months into the internship, two months early.

“I’m a three-year officer and I’m on the SWAT team,” the 25-year-old said. “That wouldn’t happen if I were in Phoenix.”

It doesn’t bother Officer Hodges to work the holidays and he tries to impart a bit of the Christmas spirit on his shift.

“It’s Christmas, I am not a cop who wants to write a ticket to every single person just do to it,” he said. “I give people more choices than an arrest. I do what I can to resolve a situation.”He also can cite and release a person who’s committed a low-level offense such as drug possession or shoplifting instead of arrest and jail.

But in cases where a person has a record of repeated offenses, he will book the person.

“At some point they have to learn a lesson,” he said. “What better than to go to jail on Christmas Eve?”

And that is what happened with some people Officer Hodges encountered on Sunday.

At the first domestic disturbance call he responded to, an 18-year-old girl is arrested. The father and daughter give different stories of what happened, which often is the case in these situations, Officer Hughes said.

An altercation ensued after the dad cleaned two Tupperware containers that apparently contained some face wash the daughter was using. According to the dad, the girl threw into a rage and punched him. She claimed her dad lunged at her and punched her in the face. The mother claimed nothing happened.

After officers interview all involved and examine the physical evidence — marks on the dad — the girl is put in handcuffs. She complains of injuries, none is seen but Glendale Fire Department arrives and checks her. She is then transported for a night at jail where she faces one count of assault.

These days being an police officer is even harder because of heightened public scrutiny after some high-profile, police-involved fatal shootings around the country.

Pew Research Center this year released a national survey of nearly 8,000 police officers who found the so-called “Ferguson effect,” was causing cops to hesitate and question their judgment in the use of force. The notion of Ferguson effect came about after riots erupted over the 2014 fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The officer involved in the case was not indicted by a grand jury, and later cleared of any rights violations.

Last year, a veteran Chicago cop was savagely beaten at a car accident scene because she was afraid of the media attention that would ensue if she shot her gun. Officer Hodges, however, said he has no hesitation when it comes to a deadly encounter.

“If I hesitate because I wonder what people will think if I shot this person and I end up getting killed, how will it look to my wife and my child waiting for me to come home?” he said. “What I do here at work, I do to get home to my family.”

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