In what USA Today calls the fastest-growing county in the fastest-growing state, Arizona, volunteers pitch in to patrol streets as the population outstrips police budgets. Pinal County, a swath of Arizona desert between Tucson and Phoenix roughly the size of Connecticut, has grown 51 percent since 2000 to a population of 271,059. Sheriff Chris Vasquez says his 250 deputies are 175 short of the manpower he needs.
Citizens on Patrol, 31 volunteers, are mostly retirees, wear distinctive blue golf shirts, and drive a cast-off patrol car in Gold Canyon, a quiet, wealthy community of 22,000. Half of the full-time deputies were transferred 19 miles south to serve booming new working-class communities totaling 80,000 people, where officers “keep busy with family fights, thefts, burglaries, traffic offenses, carrying concealed weapons, assaults,” says a police commander. “With all the tremendous growth, we just wouldn’t be able to operate without the volunteers.” Maintaining a police presence with unarmed volunteers deters crime, says Lionel Ruiz, chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. “What do you do when you see a police car on the highway, even when you’re going at a proper speed? You step on the brake.” Citizens on Patrol is credited with helping reduce reported crime 50 percent since September.