Editor's note: This is the second in a four-part series on the various types of officers from the Phoenix Police Department assigned to protect Ahwatukee Foothills. Part one, on school resource officers, appeared in the May 12 issue of the AFN and can be found at ahwatukee.com.
Phoenix Police Officer Kevin Ham pulled into an apartment complex near the Ahwatukee Recreation Center a little after 8 a.m., one hour into his shift.
Ham explained how he likes to cruise through apartment parking lots when he has time because it is a favorite place for thieves to dump stolen vehicles. Seconds after entering the license plate for the first vehicle he thought looked suspicious, a dusty black Altima, the computer in his patrol car bongs.
"We went fishing and we found one," Ham said as he exited the patrol car, gun drawn, to check and make sure no one was still in the vehicle.
An hour latter, a very happy Evan Vega arrived on the scene to get his car back.
"I've been looking for this for a couple weeks," said Vega, who thanked Ham profusely for finding his car.
In his first three hours of patrolling Ahwatukee Foothills several weeks ago Ham had unsuccessfully sought a suspicious vehicle reported in a neighborhood, helped with a shoplifter at a Safeway, found Vega's car and issued a pile of parking tickets after a neighbor called to complain about cars parked every which way on a side street near Desert Vista High School.
"Every day is different in this job," Ham said.
Actually, every hour can be different.
Patrol officers are the infantry of the Phoenix Police Department. They patrol the streets, take reports, and respond to everything from suspicious vehicles to hot calls of shots being fired or robberies in progress.
But it's not all lights and sirens. Paperwork can keep an officer off the streets for much of the standard 10-hour shift. Ham said the paperwork for Vega's stolen vehicle would take one hour, on top of the hour he spent processing the scene and waiting for Vega to arrive. That equals 20 percent of his day tied up with the recovery of one stolen vehicle.
In Ahwatukee Foothills there is generally one squad on duty at any given moment, with five officers and a sergeant. But if one is sick, another in training and one on vacation, the coverage for the 35 square miles that make up Ahwatukee Foothills can get thin, fast.
When a friend saw the body of Adam Kostewicz through a window of his home in 2006, it took the first officer 17 minutes to arrive on the murder scene at the far end of Pecos Road. The second officer arrived four minutes later.
"It's a challenge and an issue for officer safety," Ham said.
Last summer he was alone when he pulled over a vehicle that was acting suspiciously in a Lakewood neighborhood and discovered three men with guns, handcuffs and all the equipment needed for a home invasion. When the men ran, he chased and captured one. Additional officers set up a perimeter around the area and, with the help of a K-9, eventually found the other suspects hiding in yards.
The Lakewood call of a suspicious vehicle came thanks to a neighbor who saw the vehicle, knew that something wasn't right and called police.
"This is why the community has to get involved and call us," Ham said. "If we didn't get that phone call I'm convinced those people would have done a home invasion.
"We can't be everywhere all the time."
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