ELOY — From early January through late May, the Marana Police Department held a 10-week program based at Northwestern University.
The School of Police and Staff Command program combines academic principles with practical applications for law enforcement officials who were recently appointed to their first supervisory positions or are looking to move up into senior positions.
So why did Eloy Police Chief Chris Vasquez, who has more than three decades of experience, sign up for the intensive program?
“Well, you’re never too old to learn,” Vasquez said. “Prior to me becoming chief here, and although I was interim chief at Casa Grande and Winslow, I had really been away from law enforcement for about eight years for the most part.”
He wanted to make sure that he caught up with all the law enforcement changes from the past couple of years.
“I’m already a chief and I’m probably towards the end of my career,” Vasquez said. “A lot of people asked me why would I want to put myself through such a grueling training regimen, but there’s always room for self-improvement. There’s always an opportunity to learn. Law enforcement is forever changing and I owe it to my department and I owe it to the citizens to be current and the best that I can be for them.”
Some of the areas of focus in the program included decision making and problem solving, resource allocation and statistics.
One of the biggest changes Vasquez noticed was in manpower allocation to determine how many officers are needed for a police department to match the community.
“Back then it was plain and simple,” he said. “The department just did it the FBI way, one officer for every 1,000 people. That’s not how you do it anymore. There’s a whole lot of formulas that come into play, that you use to come up with how many officers we need overall for the department, and then you still break it down into how many officers you need per shift.”
Northwestern is one of a few schools that offers that type of program at various locations across the country.
Vasquez jumped at the opportunity when he found out that the Marana Police Department would be hosting the SPSC.
The FBI National Academy also offers a similar program, but Vasquez would have had to stay in Virginia for the whole 10 weeks.
“I didn’t want to go to the FBI Academy because I’d have to be away from my family and from my department for three months at one time,” he said. “I just didn’t care to do that, I didn’t want to be away for that long. I picked Northwestern because of its uniqueness. It broke everything up. I wouldn’t be away from my family or my department, and the training was just as rigorous and just as prestigious as the FBI National Academy.”
During those five months of being in the program, Vasquez would come back to his department every two weeks.
With the current renovation project to expand the police station, it was important for Vasquez to have some flexibility in his schedule.
“It was strenuous,” Vasquez said of having to balance school, work and his personal life. “Luckily it wasn’t all happening at one time. I’m very fortunate that I have two lieutenants that in my absence did a very good job of running the department.”
Vasquez also admitted that the most difficult portion of the 10 weeks was learning statistics.
“It really opened up my eyes to everything at how big a role statistics plays in decision making of how we attack an issue or problem,” he said. “I never took statistics before, even when I was in college for my bachelor’s and master’s. That was probably the hardest, toughest time for me because math is not one of my strong suits.”
Other law enforcement officials such as lieutenants, captains and deputy chiefs from throughout southern Arizona also participated in the program, but Vasquez was the only chief in the class. He previously was Pinal County sheriff after he retired from the Casa Grande Police Department.
“We were able to talk and bounce different ideas off of each other on how to accomplish things if faced with a certain situation,” Vasquez said. “We talked about what type of technology other departments have that we don’t have but might be able to go after.”
Such technology included a simulator that provides adequate training on when to use firearms, which according to Vasquez is something his department doesn’t train enough on.
“With the things at our disposal now, it would be too costly to do that type of training until I learned of how simple it was and how cost effective it is to purchase a firearm simulator,” Vasquez said. “It’s basically a big video game and it puts officers in realistic situations and makes them determine whether to use force or not, to use less lethal force such as a rubber bullet or bean bag or Taser.”
He added that it’s important for his officers to receive the best training when it comes to that particular situation because it’s a matter of life and death, and it’s not something that should be taken lightly.