A Tucson police unit at the end of the alphabet is usually the first to pull in high numbers of arrests.
The “Zebra Unit” is the essence of community policing in action.
Every division within the Tucson Police Department has a Zebra Unit, but the unit got its start at the Operations Division West.
Officers Dave Schneider and Benjamin Soltero have 17 years combined experience. They are the Zebra Unit for Operations Division West.
They were driving through a Southside neighborhood, looking for the suspect responsible for tagging the historic Fox Theatre last spring.
His car was spotted as they turned the corner. “That's our target right there,” said the officers.
Xavier Chavez was handcuffed and arrested. Detectives said he is responsible for thousands of dollars in damage at the historic Fox.
The Zebra Unit specializes in community policing. Sgt. Anthony de la Ossa oversees the unit.
“Rather than being attached to the 911 calls that are coming in, they're actually out there talking to the community,” he said.
“By doing that, we get involved with what the root problems are in the neighborhood, so we can help the citizens,” Soltero said.
When the unit has probable cause, Schneider said, “We're one of the resources used to handle the problem areas or people that need to be picked up.”
On a daily basis, the Zebra Unit briefs with detectives.
They met with the Tag Unit that is investigating vandalism at the Fox Theatre and other downtown buildings. The damage estimate is $5,000.
Armed with pictures and information, the Zebra Unit hits the street looking for their suspect.
From one end of the city to the other, the Zebra Unit began their search for 20-year-old Chavez.
They went to his parents' Southside home.
The 20-year-old emerged from the house and was handcuffed. He was held until the tag detectives arrived. Chavez was charged with criminal damage and taken to the Pima County Jail.
Shortly after, it was Code 3 for the Zebra Unit. That means lights and sirens. “Code 3 from Grant and Oracle.”
Because of their close ties to the area, when this call went out about a man who assaulted a bus driver, they knew who it was, and who he might be with. The Zebra Unit had previously arrested his girlfriend.
“Zebra 2 over, copy if that bus goes mobile if you could just give us a direction please.”
The officers even searched the Rillito River Walk, hoping for an arrest.
They asked people who were riding bikes and jogging.
“You guys haven't seen a couple walking down here, the man was wearing a white t-shirt, and the woman was pregnant?”
The officers check the restrooms, and also the bridges. The suspect and his girlfriend are nowhere to be found.
The officers will continue their search .
Capt. Eric Kazmierczk heads Operations Division West. He said he is extremely proud of the work the Zebra Unit does .
“If we're making arrests, we're preventing crime from happening again," said Soltero. "The people that are doing it are being handled and taken off the street.”
So what Zebra Units do is truly community policing at its best, all in an effort to keep the public safe.