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Phoenix police lieutenant busy with precinct expansion

PHOENIX -- Carrying on with a busy morning that involved a bank robbery at the U.S. Bank downtown, Phoenix police Lt. Jeff Lazell continues to stay on top of his duties for the police department's Downtown Operations Unit.

The 28-year veteran of Phoenix police has been a lieutenant of the Downtown Operations Unit for 13 years and said this has been the hardest but most rewarding job he's ever had.

"This position, the Downtown Operations Unit's lieutenant position, is probably the most rewarding lieutenants position in the department," Lazell said. "The first thing people think of when they think of Phoenix, or Chicago or New York is the inner city. I really enjoy the position of being the downtown lieutenant because it's the first thing people think of."

The Downtown Operations Unit formerly oversaw the stretch of land east and west between 7th Street and 7th Avenue, and north and south from Fillmore to the train tracks below Jefferson. But a few weeks ago the downtown unit expanded to cover north to Interstate 10 and east to 15th Avenue.

The change has brought a lot of new responsibilities for Lazell as his unit now covers the Central Arizona Shelter Services, where trying to get a handle on the homeless population has been a constant issue.

"The amount of homeless is pretty apparent over the last couple of years and it's grown," Lazell said. "The downtown area was seeing an increase in the homeless and we didn't have a direct connection with the Central Arizona Shelter Services because that was covered by another precinct."

Lazell said the change was prompted by Chief Daniel Garcia to adjust coverage areas of precincts based on what kinds of problems they had so precincts could better serve their respected areas.

But apart from the seemingly endless hours Lazell spends working, he is truly a dedicated family man and avid outdoors man.

The father of two, with a son studying biology at the University of Arizona and a daughter in high school, said when he actually does get away from work he often spends his time outside the Valley at the unincorporated town of Happy Jack.

"It's a really nice place to go camping and quading," Lazell said. "I try to get outdoors, away from work and that seems to be the best way because you're truly out there and can't answer your phone or get emails. You just get to spend time with family and friends."

Lazell said he even recently bought a new Jeep, but hasn't quite had a chance to fully test it out due to the extra hours involved with the expansion of the Downtown Operations Unit.

A native of Illinois, Lazell studied law enforcement administration at Western Illinois University and came to the Valley when he took an internship with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office's Investigations Unit.

"I spent a whole summer out here doing an internship," Lazell said. "It was my choice where I wanted to be a police officer; Chicago, Illinois where it's cold and rainy or I could come out to Phoenix, Arizona where it's nice and sunny."

During Lazell's 13-year tenure as lieutenant, crime has dropped in downtown Phoenix for the last seven straight years and has made it a much safer place to live.

"The downtown corridor of Phoenix is one of the safest places in the city," said Lazell. "I don't think a lot of people realize that, and that's a good message to get across."

Lazell said that his officers have focused on community based policing and that has made a big difference in the reduction of crime in the city. Even though the department has not hired new officers for two years due to budget issues, and won't be hiring for another two, he said that the downtown area is fortunate to have almost enough officers to cover individual blocks.

"The officers get to meet the people in the neighborhoods certainly more than other places in the city," Lazell said. "I think the people down here will start to see more officers, and the neighborhoods will start to interact more with those officers."

Being the outdoors man that he is, Lazell said it's important for him to stay out in the field in his day-to-day duties. He's glad he can sometimes put aside the nuisance of daily paperwork to get out in the field and help identify issues to make the city a better place to live.

"It's like any job, you make it your own," Lazell said. "Even as a lieutenant I have the ability to get out, but you can't get around the paperwork."

After 28 years with Phoenix police, Lazell said he's about two years away from retirement. He and his wife, a retired officer who worked for 25 years, are looking forward to having more time to spend relaxing when his time is up. By then it'll have been nearly 31 years working for Phoenix police and Lazell is excited to have time to devote to his other favorite pastime: traveling.

"It'll be time to travel or relax and get away from police work," Lazell said. "There are parts of the U.S. I've never been and it's amazing how you can live here for 45 or 50 years and yet you haven't seen half the states."

Lazell, who has traveled many times outside of the country, said he's most looking forward to visiting the Northwest, like Washington and Oregon, but also wants to visit Boston and the Northeast United States.

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