In these times, we are met with many conveniences that most never think twice about, essential services that seem to have always existed but have not, as it is with one of the most important, life saving divisions at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, the 911 department. It is hard to believe that the department was created in 1993, with key figures at the time like Sheriff Tony Estrada advocating the utter importance of making these services available to local residents. The planning for the 911 systems began in the late 1980’s, with the equipment being installed in January of 1993. The system was inaugurated on May 5, 1993, becoming available to all residents of Santa Cruz County.
Before its recent move to the new location, the 911 department was due for upgrading but was postponing any changes to coincide with the relocation of the SCC Sheriff’s Office. “All the new equipment was installed at the new facility, so when the move began, we basically brought what we needed, flipped the switch and we were operational,” Communications Supervisor for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, Augustin M. Huerta, Jr.
When it comes to technology, the department is using the latest and best equipment available. Sitting in front of each officer are four screens that are responsible for aiding and giving them the tools necessary to perform life saving assistance. One screen is dedicated to coordinates, which has live satellite mapping via Internet that will plot any landline or cell phone call on the map within a 1-1,000 foot range. This screen will also assist deputies on duty in finding the correct coordinates of any emergency. The second screen is dedicated to computer-aided dispatch, which keeps track of reports, traffic stops, all calls and tracks all deputies who are on duty. The third screen is the 911 phone screen, which is the digital connection that can be connected anywhere in the state, an upgrade from the previous analog system. The last screen is the radio screen, which is responsible for receiving radio frequencies from the five county fire departments, three sheriff’s channels, SCC emergency services channel, animal control/public works channel and the Nogales Police and Fire Department channels.
Today, the department is responsible for all in-coming calls in unincorporated Santa Cruz County, which include Rio Rico, Tubac, Patagonia, Tumacacori, Sonoita and Elgin. It is responsible for all the patrol deputies, providing initial dispatch for forest service and relay traffic on I-19 to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), which is the primary law enforcement agency for the interstates and highways. The deputies are dispatched to calls occurring on the highways to preserve life and limb but DPS is ultimately responsible for those calls. The jurisdiction includes I-19 from Nogales city limits up to exit 48 and state routes 82, 83, and 289 to include all unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County, also aiding all federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol. The officers are also responsible for maintaining and entering warrants and protections orders into the state and national databases that are issued by the Justice of the Peace in precincts one and two as well as the county Superior Court.
The 911 department currently has nine officers with one in training. Every officer in the department has to undergo a four-month on the job training and has to complete several phases of training, which are phase one, observation; phase two, call taking; phase three, 911; phase four, radio and a final observation phase. All the officers in the department are CPR certified and are constantly receiving training to update their skills.
“The officers have to be ready to handle long hours and high amounts of stress, not only are they dealing with our officers but also all the fire departments and anything that might come their way,” said Huerta.
The amount of calls is constant but there are times in the year when the numbers of calls increase. “During the wildfire season, around the summer, this place is extremely busy, we are working around the clock,” said Huerta. The officers in the 911 center and the entire sheriff’s office work tirelessly to uphold the law, keep the peace and save lives.
“When we have aided someone through an emergency and they are alive, it makes us extremely proud that we are doing our job, our response times are within one to ten minutes, which is the difference between life and death,” said Huerta. “If you do have an emergency, location is key, be clear to give us your location, the details of the emergency and your name, we cannot stress this enough,” said Huerta.
The Communications Officers in the 911 department are as follows Zaida Ashford, Jorge Hernandez, Ivette Legleu, Sylvia Molera, Dennise Leon, Romina Bermudez, Javier De La Ossa, Augustin Huerta, Arcelia Lopez and Leah Valenzuela.
For more information please visit 2170 N. Congress Dr., Nogales AZ, or call (520) 761-7869.