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Updated Mar 24, 2013 - 2:09 pm

Chief Garcia makes changes to downtown Phoenix precinct

With nearly a year under his belt as chief, Daniel Garcia has made it a point to focus on improving Phoenix Police Department's downtown precinct.

Called the Downtown Operations Unit, it is one of the most active police precincts in Phoenix and one that Garcia considers most important.

"I believe in most big cities, as your downtown goes…so does your city," Garcia said. "The downtown is very important to all cities."

Garcia said that when it comes to development, the downtown areas in cities are where businesses and investors look first when deciding if they want to invest or expand into a new area.

With this in mind, Garcia has focused on making the Downtown Operation Unit more efficient at addressing the problems that face the downtown area.

The expansion increased the geographic area the precinct covers. Formerly it oversaw the stretch of land east and west between 7th Street and 7th Avenue, and north and south from Fillmore to Buchanan.

The expansion implemented a few months ago now has the Downtown Operations Unit covering north to Interstate 10 and west to 15th Avenue.

Phoenix Police Lt. Jeff Lazell, who oversees the Downtown Operations Unit, said expanding the precinct west to 15th Avenue allows the precinct to have a better connection the Central Arizona Shelter Service.

Located on 12th Avenue, C.A.S.S. is the largest homeless shelter in Arizona and houses more than 1,000 men, women and children every night, according to their website.

"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 that police precincts look at the type of crimes and calls they receive to determine what they need to focus on and for Phoenix, one issue has been homelessness.

With a direct connection to the homeless shelters, Lazell and Garcia believe it allows police to not only better serve the homeless, but also the community at large. "We can hook people up that need treatment or counseling or housing, whatever it is," Lazell said. "Now we have that direct link with them, so that was a big reason why we wanted to expand."

Beyond expanding the Downtown Operations Unit's geographic area, Garcia has also introduced what he calls an emergency response team to downtown Phoenix.

The purpose of the emergency response team is to allow for police to be prepared to handle any kind of emergency in Phoenix in an efficient manner.

Before coming to Phoenix, Garcia was the assistant chief of police in Dallas where he had implemented a similar system. He said that having an emergency response team in Dallas prepared police for critical emergencies, and one such emergency was on 9/11.

Downtown Dallas was evacuated as a safety precaution and Garcia said the emergency response team efficiently executed the evacuation.

"Because we had a plan already developed," Garcia said. "We were able to evacuate downtown Dallas in less than an hour. [The program] gave us an orderly evacuation of over 200,000 people."

Garcia has implemented a system in Phoenix modeled after the one in Dallas to make sure police are prepared in the event of an emergency.

By having officers focus on downtown and making the precinct more efficient, Garcia said it helps police officers make the city safer and helps Phoenix become more welcoming to businesses and residents.

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