Tue, Jan

Police struggle to find recruits


According to Chief Steve Gesell, Cottonwood Police Department is experiencing a major need for recruits — a situation, Gesell clarified, that is not singular to Cottonwood.Cottonwood police chief Steve Gesell stands in front of the Law Enforcement Heroes Statue at the Cottonwood police station. The department is emphasizing the quality of life here in trying to recruit officers.

The reason for the increased demand for personnel, Gesell said, is threefold:

  • An improving economy that discourages application to police departments due to other available jobs.
  • Continuing Great Recession cuts that have reduced police department budgets.
  • National anti-police rhetoric.

“It’s actually very concerning,” Gesell said of the situation, adding that the applicant pool was “shallow before this even happened.” According to Gesell, the factors outlined have made drawing from the applicant pool even more challenging.

Nonetheless, Gesell said that he feels encouraged about engaging the community by way of a recruitment video highlighting not only the resources available to the CPD but the benefits of either staying or coming to live in the Verde Valley.

“We have to market the quality of life here,” Gesell said. “That is the main reason people work here.”

Gesell encouraged those interested in applying to contact CPD to arrange a ride-along.

“They can also peruse our Facebook site, mobile app and website and talk to those in the community that are familiar with our service to make preliminary determinations if the fit is good for them,” Gesell said.

The last year at the helm, Gesell added, has been productive, but it has yet to provide concrete data of increases or decreases in crime and crime prevention: “Typically, proactive police work increases when a new police chief is installed, although there are always other variables that influence those numbers.

“I believe that will be the case over the last year. We still have yet to crunch the last two months. When that’s done, we’ll release a summary of any trends of note.”

Gesell said that his time here has made him a fan of the Verde Valley, especially compared to his former areas of employment, San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Scottsdale.

“I don’t feel older — I feel younger,” Gesell said, praising the positive interaction between police and community members in Cottonwood. “You don’t generally see this type of investment in big cities .... When you’re in a smaller community, close relationships become more apparent.”

Gesell added that his time in Cottonwood has confirmed his faith in small communities, giving him a renewed vigor for police work.

Regardless, though he is all smiles about the transition to rural Arizona, Gesell added that he hasn’t forgotten a fact of life in his profession: Eventually, men leave police work to pursue other interests.

Gesell has gone about his plans for the inevitable in a particularly Verde Valley way — by turning half of his three acres of Verde River-fronted property into a vineyard capable of producing 170 to 180 cases of Bordeaux Cabernet wine.

Gesell has trademarked his brand and bought a domain name for 10-17 Cellars. “10-17” refers to the code officers use to signal they are off duty.

“For me, it’s a reference for the day when I leave police work,” Gesell said, adding that it is ironic he and his wife never got around to producing wine while living in Northern California, where wine is ubiquitous. “It’s very cool.

“I never thought I would own a tractor, but I do .... Never in a million years did I think we’d move to Arizona and do what we’re doing.”

According to Gesell, there is a “burgeoning niche” for what Verde Valley vintners have to offer — award-winning wines that play to Northern Arizona’s climate and culture, not to mention its proximity to the Phoenix area.

The other factor making wine production a viable option is Maynard James Keenan, owner of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. Keenan, an internationally recognized alternative rock musician, is the most noteworthy advocate of winemaking in the Verde Valley.

Having met Keenan and after touring his vineyard in Jerome, Gesell became convinced of the value of his own property to wine culture.

“[Keenan] has been very kind to me,” Gesell said. “He has essentially given me access to his winery manager .... We just fell into this. The opportunity seemed to present itself.”

Gesell is enrolled in a 100-level viticulture class at Yavapai College. Boasting prime water rights off the Verde River, he and his wife sent soil and water samples to an expert and received good news: Barring weather conditions, their soil conditions were classified as “highly fertile.”

In the first week of May, Gesell expects to plant the first grapevines. By the third season, he hopes to begin bottling 10-17 Cellars wine via Clarkdale’s Four Eight Wine Makers’ Co-Operative. The eventual plan is to provide wine to local tasting rooms.

Police Body Cameras
According to Cottonwood Police Department Chief Steve Gesell, all patrol officers and supervisors have been wearing body cameras since prior to his arrival.
“We’re about two years in, I believe,” Gesell said. “We’re actually planning on reviewing current technology to determine if we will change vendors. Body-worn cameras are embraced by our officers and clearly beneficial in reducing citizen complaints and encouraging more positive contacts with members of the public.”
According to Gesell, body-worn camera technology continues to evolve with demand.
“Body-worn camera programs were being launched by agencies across the nation prior to any of the high-profile controversial police shootings across the country,” Gesell said.

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Cottonwood United States Clear (night), 30 °F
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