Local police keep Flagstaff at peace

Flagstaff police officers stand post outside of the many bars that opened their doors early morning for Tequila Sunrise in downtown Flagstaff Oct. 24, 2015.

Many college campuses around the U.S. feature their own police departments with specialized jurisdiction over each individual campus. Flagstaff law enforcement officers encourage students to better understand how local and campus police departments operate so they can know what to expect in various situations, assist in crime prevention themselves and feel secure that the police are on their side.

The Flagstaff Police Department (FPD) and the NAU Police Department (NAUPD) are the two primary law enforcement entities operating within the city of Flagstaff. They are distinguished primarily by geographic jurisdiction. NAUPD’s law enforcement authority falls solely within the NAU campus, while Flagstaff PD’s authority covers the whole of the city — excluding the campus.

According to NAUPD Officer Brenda Rintala, her department focuses on ensuring safety and security primarily for students. Rintala said the mission statement of the NAUPD involves furthering the education of students through securing a safe learning environment. Despite that its jurisdiction is bound by the borders of campus, Rintala said NAUPD strives to serve Flagstaff as a whole.

“NAUPD helps the people of the greater Flagstaff area in that a lot of our students, faculty and staff are Flagstaff locals themselves,” Rintala said. “We work very closely with the FPD and the Coconino County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) to ensure safety on and off campus.”

In Flagstaff, four Arizona police departments have enforcement jurisdiction: the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) — which serves Arizona as a whole, the CCSO — which serves all of Coconino County, including Flagstaff, the FPD and the NAUPD. Because the operations of the latter two are focused primarily within Flagstaff, they are usually the first to respond to incidents that occur locally.

Sergeant Charles Hernandez II, a public relations officer for the FPD said it's a good thing to have both police forces operating in Flagstaff.

“Everyone’s going to need help considering the exponential growth of this city,” Hernandez said. "I think having the NAU police officers responsible for NAU and then us for the rest of the city is a win-win.”

Although both police departments hold jurisdiction over different parts of Flagstaff, Rintala said each department is able to assist the other if need be.

“We have a mutual aid agreement, which means that the FPD, DPS, CCSO and NAUPD will all help each other when needed,” Rintala said. “If there’s a major incident, all agencies work together to ensure the safety of the community.”

Hernandez said that when one police department assists another, it is usually prompted by an official request for assistance.

“Obviously, if there’s an emergency, we’re not going to say, ‘Wait, let’s look at this agreement and see if we can help or not,’" Hernandez said. "We’re going to immediately go help our brothers.”

Officers in both departments are able to provide assistance to each other, because each department has the ability to enforce laws across the entire state of Arizona. Hernandez said that, for the most part, Arizona officers attend the same police academies and study the same laws together.

“All officers are sworn-in, which means that NAUPD has authority throughout the state of Arizona,” Rintala said. "However, we will always take the lead on anything that occurs on NAU's campus. Likewise, FPD will take the lead on investigations within city limits.”

Junior Kenzie Ceravolo said she feels comforted by the fact that there are two major police departments operating in the area.

“I do think we should know that [the police] are there for us, and that they’re not always there to act against us,” Ceravolo said. “It’s good to know that if at any point you’re worried about something, they’ll be there.”

Rintala supported this sentiment and said that it's important for the community to understand that the police are there to assist them, not to harm them.

“The most satisfying part of the job is being able to help someone,” Rintala said. “Whether it's the victim of a crime, a person stuck in the snow or an individual that simply needs someone to talk to, being able to help people is a great part of law enforcement.”

Hernandez said it's important for students to understand that the police are not out to ruin their fun. Both the FPD and NAUPD want to see their citizens succeed.

“I think the most important thing here is that we’re not out to target students,” Hernandez said. “We all attended college. We've all been through what students are going through.”

Hernandez said that, although they enforce laws, police officers intend to prevent crime above all else. The officer also said that personal responsibility and awareness go a long way in helping to prevent crime.

“If there’s a party that’s getting out of hand, citizens can choose to police it themselves and start kicking guests out. They can say ‘Hey, let’s keep it quiet,’” Hernandez said. “Actions like that lessen the chance that we'll respond. We only come out when someone calls us. If there's a disturbance, we’re going to try to eliminate it and prevent it from occurring again. That’s why we issue party response notices and citations to try and change people's behavior. It’s not because we want to punish them, we’re just trying to maintain civility and enhance safety throughout the city."

Rintala said that because Flagstaff is home to so many college students, much of what the police respond to when school is in session are parties.

“We’ve come to expect it,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been here 14 years, so I know that on Friday and Saturday nights I might be busy at a bar.”

Hernandez said it's important to remember that local law enforcement is there to help when situations get out of hand or to prevent dangerous situations from escalating. He also said that in an emergency, people should dial 911 for assistance.