From two fatal officer involved shootings to an uptick in traffic accidents and a struggle to maintain staffing levels, it has been a trying year for the Payson Police Department.

The past year has been full of changes for the department. Besides patrolling the streets of Payson, the department continues its contract to travel east to Star Valley to provide services. And the department is looking at expanding, beginning a study to see what’s necessary to continue to meet the needs of the community for years to come.

The Roundup recently went through all the changes with Police Chief Ron Tischer. Here are the highlights from that conversation.

Officer involved shootings

The PPD started 2021 with a fatal shooting at the Bison Cove Apartments off Malibu. A man was reportedly acting suspicious, checking in vehicles. Officers responded and when the man appeared to reach for something, officers fired. All three officers were cleared of any wrongdoing from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. However, an internal investigation is still ongoing. Tischer says Lt. Jason Hazelo is sorting through paperwork from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which investigated. Of the officers involved, Officer Justin Deaton is no longer with the department. Deaton went back to construction work, Tischer said.

Tischer says the officers acted reasonably. “That one is pretty cut and dry.”

The second fatal shooting took place toward the end of the year. It also involved three officers. Officers were called to the Safeway shopping center after a witness saw a man and woman arguing. Video surveillance captured the event, which the Gila County Attorney’s Office is reviewing along with a report from DPS to determine if any of the officers will face charges.

Tischer says the officers did what they were trained to do. “How it unfolded they didn’t really have a choice to do anything else.”

New technology

Officers are now wearing body cameras. Tischer says those are working well and they expect to see video footage used in upcoming trials.

They continue to look at integrating additional technology to make the department more efficient.

New Star Valley contract

Besides patrolling Payson, last year the PPD took on the community of Star Valley. Star Valley had used the Gila County Sheriff’s Office for services for many years, but moved to the PPD for better service.

Tischer said the 3.5-year agreement is working well and several PPD officers live in Star Valley, so take pride in patrolling the streets.

“From our perspective, it worked out pretty well,” he said. “The officers care about that community.”

New K-9

Through a grant, the PPD received a new K-9. Officer Cody Anderson is getting the dog training in drug detection. The dog will soon be certified and can start work.

COVID’s impact

Tischer could not say how many officers got sick with COVID, but said they had a fair amount.

“Overall, as a department, we faired well.”

Since the dispatch center has few staffers, they kept that part of the building isolated. Officers did not come and go into that space as a precaution.

Tischer said they do not track how many officers are vaccinated.

Radios

The department integrated a new 800 MHz digital radio system. The new setup offers better service, so there are not as many dead spots when officers are in the field. The GCSO and Globe Police Department are also switching to the new system, which provides for better interoperability.

The biggest change for residents, however, was that scanners can no longer pick up PPD radio traffic, something many residents enjoyed listening to and knowing what was going on around town.

“We had a lot of issues with scanner traffic,” he said. “With the bad guys being able to hear it through the scanner or apps on their phone.”

Tischer said this was a “huge safety issue.”

New squad cars

The PPD got four new squad cars, which were authorized in the 2020/21 budget.

New traffic officer

Officer Kyle Bathke has been assigned as the department’s traffic officer. His primary focus is handling citizen traffic/speeding complaints, doing speed checks and handling all traffic calls.

“He does not take other calls for service,” Tischer said. “One of our main complaints is speeding in neighborhoods and drivers not stopping at stop signs.”

Blood draws

Tischer said phlebotomy numbers increased significantly in 2021. He said this is attributed to several officers getting certified to do blood draws, so now the department does not have to call on another department to do it. The PPD is helping the GCSO with draws as they do not have a phlebotomist as well as DPS.

More space

The PPD has occupied its current location next to town hall for years. This past year, the council approved a space needs study, hiring an architect to look at where they can expand and how much room they need to carry the department into the next 10-15 years. Tischer said they need more dispatch space, offices, training room and rooms to conduct interviews.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence calls didn’t take a break in 2021.

There were 164 cases reported, which “in a town our size is pretty substantial.”

Tischer says that is more cases than in 2020.

Arrests

A quick breakdown of arrests in 2021:

204 DUIs; up from an average of 150 per year

77 drug arrests, 49 of those arrests were drug sales related (basically 49 dealer arrests)

58% of those arrests were fentanyl or a combo

53% involved meth or combo (there’s meth/fentanyl overlap)

Only one case for heroin

Approximately 1.5 lb. of meth seized for local use; fentanyl local seizure total was 1,526 pills

45% of arrests were people already on release of some form.

Total money seizure was $35,561

22 search warrants

“260/87 is definitely a main drug corridor out of Phoenix. We are seeing mostly meth/fentanyl combos in drug cases. Heroin is rare but supposedly coming back,” he said.

Crash reports:

2020 – 336 2021 YTD – 374

Crash reports with a fatality:

2020 – 0 2021 YTD – 2

Crash reports marked suspected serious injury:

2020 – 7 2021 YTD – 11

Crash reports marked suspected minor injury or suspected serious injury:

2020 – 54 2021 YTD – 62

Crash reports marked as hit and runs:

2020 – 78 2021 YTD – 80

Contact the editor at abechman@payson.com

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