GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University has long stressed open dialogue with police leaders and west Phoenix neighborhood activists to foster a safer community around its growing campus.
On Thursday, that commitment to public safety deepened as Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia and City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela joined GCU CEO Brian Mueller at GCU Arena to announce a five-year, $1 million crime-suppression partnership considered the most significant of its kind in the city’s history.
As part of the GCU Neighborhood Safety Initiative, the University will pledge $100,000 annually through 2017 to support Phoenix police crime-suppression programs in the area from Indian School Road to Bethany Home Road between Interstate 17 and 43rd Avenue. City officials will match the funds annually.
Mueller spoke enthusiastically about how the GCU Neighborhood Safety Initiative will strengthen local businesses, link west Phoenix families to affordable college educations at GCU, and enhance the overall character of the area.
“The give-back that’s been part of Grand Canyon’s history is tremendous and now that we have the financial resources, we’re accelerating that,” Mueller said during the Thursday news conference. “This is a good example of that acceleration. In addition to the things we already do, we want this to be a major driver for the west side of Phoenix and this neighborhood.”
Phoenix police from Cactus Park Precinct said the funding will cover overtime to augment patrols, providing 58 additional man hours on average each week for proactive enforcement. The added funds will enable officers to go beyond responding to emergency radio calls.
GCU Neighborhood Safety Initiative operations could include delegating “saturation patrols” to beef up police visibility and using unmarked or undercover police to crack down on crime in neighborhoods around campus. Enforcement efforts will be determined on a weekly basis and through feedback from a steering committee that will include police, GCU staff, neighborhood activists and stakeholders.
In addition to GCU’s annual funding, the University also donated 10 police bicycles to Cactus Park Precinct to help officers patrol areas where squad cars won’t fit, or where officers would prefer to have a stronger element of surprise.
The Neighborhood Safety Initiative picks up where a federal Department of Justice grant left off in December. For five years, the DOJ’s “Weed and Seed” program targeted crime and blight in the same area, commonly known as Canyon Corridor. Community leaders credited the federal funding as critical to reducing crime in the area and empowering residents to take back their streets.
Chief Garcia, who came to Phoenix from Dallas Police Department last year, heralded the GCU Neighborhood Safety Initiative as a partnership that could be duplicated in other parts of the city.
“This is the first opportunity I’ve had as police chief of the city of Phoenix to see public and private partnerships at their very best,” Garcia said. “I cannot thank the university enough, I cannot thank the community enough, for not only establishing this opportunity to work together, but for establishing a profile for the rest of the city to follow and move forward.”
Valenzuela, a firefighter who was elected last year to Phoenix City Council’s District 5 seat, said public safety should be the No. 1 priority of any city government. He told the news conference audience that GCU “is educating our children, and now with the police department, they’re helping keep those children and their families safe.”
Enrollment at GCU’s ground campus is expected to increase by 1,700 to nearly 7,000 by next month when students return for the Fall 2012 semester. The University is in the midst of a $313 million capital improvement overhaul that includes GCU Arena, dorms, classrooms and other buildings expected to enhance the character of the surrounding community.
Public safety remains a key focus for University leaders. GCU officials anticipate that nearly 15,000 students could attend classes at the ground campus in three years, according to enrollment projections.
As part of the GCU Neighborhood Safety Initiative, monthly reports on arrests and reported crimes from the targeted area will be compiled for the public, in addition to quarterly financial reports.
Phoenix police Lt. Ben Leuschner said the funding provided by GCU will enable police to concentrate on specific areas or crimes rather than from driving from radio call to radio call. Funding provided by GCU and matched by the city will pay for police overtime primarily.
Leuschner, a Cactus Park Precinct resource lieutenant who oversees neighborhood enforcement teams and community-action officers, said drops in crime stats will play into measuring the success of the program.
But with crime, perception is reality – and the police department remains focused on making sure residents feel that their neighborhoods are safer.
“If the public doesn’t feel that, then we haven’t done our job,” Leuschner said. “It’s a two-part approach.”
GCU already allows Phoenix police officers space at the campus public safety office to park squad cars and write reports. That will continue as part of the program and the University will also provide community space for meetings with police on the GCU Neighborhood Safety Initiative.
Leuschner, who came to Cactus Park Precinct toward the end of the Canyon Corridor Weed and Seed program, said GCU’s safety initiative will benefit the entire neighborhood.
“(GCU is) more concerned with the surrounding neighborhood,” Leuschner said. “It’s a win-win. The neighbors get the additional police service and Grand Canyon gets the added protection around campus.”
Phoenix Police is also expected to provide training for GCU personnel on security issues to help further protect students and staff.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.