In 2007, the East Valley Gang & Criminal Information Fusion Center opened at the Mesa Police Department. The center was designed by local police chiefs to create a system to collect, analyze and exchange information about crime and criminals who for years moved from one city to another with impunity knowing most police departments were ill-equipped to work beyond their city limits. Policing hadn’t evolved — technologically, culturally and politically — to keep up with the growing presence of career criminals and organized crime gangs that the U.S. Department of Justice says can be responsible for up to 90 percent of serious crime.
After four years, the Fusion Center has shown that regional sharing works and saves money. It not only changed the way of doing police work, it also changed an age old culture that was needed to address regional public safety issues that impacted everyone.
For those of us who have worked in law enforcement, the combining of resources in the East Valley was a giant step forward that other parts of the state took decades ago. Tucson got its first fusion-type center in 1978. City, county, state and federal cooperative efforts in Coconino, Yuma and the border counties date back decades.
For whatever reason, cities in our region had failed to move forward when it came to effective policing by design. Too often politics and seeing other cities as adversaries and not partners was the order of the day.
Now the Fusion Center is being expanded. Thanks in large part to the support of Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and the Mesa City Council, the program that once occupied a single room inside MPD headquarters will now occupy an entire floor of the former city court building. The expansion will allow the Fusion Center to increase its regional efforts and allow for a greater level of involvement of even more law enforcement agencies.
I mention the Fusion Center only to demonstrate that things that were once believed nearly impossible to do in the closed culture of policing have now been accomplished out of necessity and a strong desire to do what’s right.
It’s a governmental model that with strong political leadership could be adopted to any number of municipal services long overdue for change and modernization.
Collectively, East Valley cities have a considerable amount to offer and a strong potential to weather the current economic storm with the right leadership and collaborative efforts. Singularly, cities may not even be able to compete in the 21st century.
Government in the East Valley will need to change in order to deliver adequate essential services while maintaining a quality of life in order to bounce back from the current situation.
Smith says the Fusion Center is a proven model of multi-city cooperation that could be used to improve the quality and delivery of municipal services that have a regional impact. Cooperative efforts are a must to help the East Valley sustain, attract and develop the kind of industry that can appreciate what the region has to offer in both the short and long term.
Smith said the East Valley’s common history and established success in joint public safety efforts should make cooperation and sharing, of even some political power, that much easier.
The East Valley has the political leadership and a proven plan to change the way local governments do business. Let’s hope our elected leaders can come together for the common good and take the East Valley in a new direction before it’s too late.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org