Phoenix sees impact of GCU assist on public safety
By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Since announcing its contribution of $125,000 to keep elements of Phoenix graffiti-removal and drowning-prevention programs from being lost in citywide budget cuts, Grand Canyon University is seeing results in its west Phoenix neighborhood.
The cash donation, announced in the spring, resulted in the preservation of a fire department inspection program and supplies for the Graffiti Busters program as the city addressed a $38 million budget deficit. Now, the city’s Neighborhood Services Department has a “graffiti-free zone” in effect around the University, and the Phoenix Fire Department’s Prevention division has added an inspector to respond to non-emergency calls such as downed fences that can leave children vulnerable to drowning in backyard pools.
The fire department program that GCU helped save is known as “Car 99.” It responds to calls about compromised pool fences, fire-code abatement issues and other issues to support emergency first-responders. Considered a a non-emergency function, the program was considered for elimination by cash-strapped Phoenix, so that more money could be dedicated to emergency response efforts.
Brian Scholl, a Phoenix fire inspector who responds to citywide Car 99 efforts, said west Phoenix has an added challenge with preventing access to pools. Neighborhoods in the Canyon Corridor and Maryvale have a higher volume of older homes built before 1990, when Phoenix adopted code changes requiring new homes to have backyard pools enclosed by barrier fences, Scholl said.
When a monsoon storm knocks down a wooden external fence, or a vacant home is unattended, children find easy access to a potential hazard, he said. Many Phoenix drowning calls involve children under age 6 and, in west Phoenix there’s a high number of multifamily complexes with pools that have the potential for faulty gates or fences.
“It’s just a slip underwater, and that’s it,” Scholl said about the potential for drowning. “It’s scary.”
Last week, a concerned resident near 55th Avenue and Camelback Road called the fire department to report an open pool at a home that’s vacant and for sale. A Car 99 inspector responded immediately to put up a temporary barrier and place a notice on the property, encouraging the owner to address the hazard.
Scholl said the fire prevention division at Phoenix Fire was grateful to hear about GCU’s $100,000 contribution, especially since the division is already operating at lower-than-optimal staffing levels.
“If we lose even one inspector, we may not be able to respond as Car 99 anymore because we have other things we have to inspect — state-licensed facilities, group homes, hospitals,” Scholl said.
The University has long championed public safety in west Phoenix. In 2012, the Phoenix Police Department and GCU announced the Canyon Corridor Neighborhood Safety Initiative. The program involved GCU contributing $100,000 annually for five years, which the city would match, to cover police overtime costs for addressing crime in the area from Indian School Road to Bethany Home Road between Interstate 17 and 43rd Avenue.
Since then, the initiative has led to dozens of arrests, search warrants, field interrogations and other crime-suppression efforts due to the increased police presence.
GCU and the city established a graffiti-free zone in that same Canyon Corridor area. Since July, crews have canvassed the area nearly every day to paint over fresh graffiti and respond to neighborhood reports of others.
Adela Torres, who oversees the effort for Phoenix’s Neighborhood Services Department, said GCU’s $25,000 contribution to the Graffiti Busters program has helped her team do more in the Canyon Corridor. Graffiti Busters workers document each tag with iPads that automatically log the location and place it in a searchable database that’s accessible to police. Most tags, she said, are not gang-related. But if they are, police have a detailed item to refer to during investigations.
“We’re making sure residents don’t have to see it, and (students) don’t have to see it walking to school,” Torres said. “It takes the fear out of it.”
Reach Michael Ferraresi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-639-7030.