Huddleston wants to continue serving community

CASA GRANDE — It would be fair to say serving the public runs deep in the DNA of Bob Huddleston, the current Casa Grande city councilman who is seeking another term in the upcoming elections.

Huddleston, 64, spent 33 years with the Casa Grande Police Department, working his way up through the ranks as police officer to detective, sergeant and lieutenant. The crowning moment of his career came in 1999 when he became the local police chief, a position he held for 14 years before retiring from the force in 2013.

Despite retirement, Huddleston is actively involved in the legal system in the form of being a judge pro tempore with the Pinal County Justice Court system.

With considerable experience in law enforcement, Huddleston told PinalCentral his background had proved invaluable in terms of working with the community and understanding their needs and issues.

“Being a police officer in the community you grew up in was beneficial,” he said. “You already know a lot of people, you see a lot of familiar faces. I loved being a police officer responding to issues, emergencies and incidents. You learned the city never closes. It’s 24/7, there’s always something going on within the city.

“I was fortunate enough to get elected to council for the last three and a half years and I throughly enjoy it. I think my expertise in public safety has helped me a lot. I think every city council needs someone with that kind of expertise on it. In Casa Grande, public safety with our police and fire department takes the lion’s share of general funding. So we as a council cover a lot of issues that affect police and fire, so I think I bring that background to the group and have hopefully served them well,” he said.

With the Casa Grande region currently enjoying an accelerated economic surge, Huddleston said the boom has been created by a series of influences.

“I think it’s important from a council person’s standpoint to see the big picture with regards to what’s going on,” he said. “We’re experiencing rapid growth. Growth is very cyclical in that different phases of growth are triggered by one thing and then the next phase is dependent of another. We are seeing that with Lucid Motors. Lucid came to Casa Grande for many reasons, but one is because our community is well rounded and balanced. They came here believing their employees would be happy here and with the services and amenities that we have.”

So of course when the employees come in, there is a need for housing and the housing market took off. That is followed by service industry growth, including restaurants and other amenities.

“I think it’s very important on City Council that we be very aware of what is going on and that we have to make good decisions that are good and proper for everyone that lives here,” said Huddleston.

With the deadline for council candidate to be submitted next Monday, Huddleston has already lodged his official paperwork including the required 400 signatures thanks in no small part to wife Doria Garza-Huddleston.

“Doria is my campaign manager. She’s the one I really have to thank for getting all of my signatures. She’s been the legwork through all of that process,” he said.

One thing Huddleston said influences his everyday life and work is his family.

“Most of my family of five grown children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren live nearby and family is very important. That’s one of the main reasons why we are here. We will never leave Casa Grande because our families live nearby.

“I think family relationships are very important. I’m a family man, that’s part of who I am and that’s part of Bob Huddleston the council member as well.”

CG Police chief says surveillance cameras won't violate residents' privacy

CASA GRANDE — A new policing tool could soon be operating in and around the streets of Casa Grande, according to Police Chief Mark McCrory.

McCrory addressed the City Council on Monday evening at a study session about the benefits of surveillance technology from Flock Safety cameras.

The cameras normally are strategically placed at various traffic hotspots and are capable of detecting a number of identifying factors that would be beneficial in fighting crime.

According to the Flock company website, the camera is capable of license plate reading and determination of vehicle type, color and frequency in an area. The technology can also determine specific identifying details such as vehicle customization and other unique features.

The cameras are motion-activated, solar powered and online 24/7. The cameras are fixed onto a 12-foot pole.

McCrory told PinalCentral the Flock system would be a big aid to detectives working on cases.

“Number one is it is going to save time for our detectives, a lot of time,” said McCrory. “It’s going to allow these detectives to identify suspect vehicles that we wouldn’t have been able to identify before. It’s also going to alert us to vehicles that are coming to Casa Grande to do dirty work that would have been on a hot-list from another jurisdiction that we wouldn’t have any idea about.”

Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland was also glowing in his praise of the technology and told PinalCentral there is a good chance the cameras could be installed before the end of the year, pending council approval.

“I would think that is certainly within the realm of possibility,” said McFarland. “The Casa Grande Police Department will engage with the company (Flock), then they will come back to us with a budget. I believe, and I may be speaking out of school, but depending on the total cost, it is going to be using (seized) RICO funds.”

In his presentation to the council, McCrory said the Flock camera “gathers objective and unbiased facts about vehicles” and that his department would be able to pinpoint suspects in a more thorough and efficient manner.

“Crime doesn’t stick in one area, crime travels,” McCrory said. “Our officers that go to the scene can put a suspect license plate out in one to three minutes. If that officer is busy, then the dispatch can also have access to this (Flock cameras) and put that information out. So we start getting hits prior to our arrival on scene.”

McCrory also said that when his Casa Grande officers go to a scene, they have to ask the dispatch center for direction and travel, and many times the officers have no idea where the suspect goes and that it is guesswork. But with the Flock system, it allows for “precision policing.”

McCrory also told the council that Flock cameras had already been installed in Tempe, Apache Junction, Queen Creek, Mesa, Buckeye, Maricopa and Oro Valley and cited examples of success in thwarting crimes in those cities.

Traffic enforcement such as speeding or facial recognition are not part of Flock information gathering objectives of the Casa Grande Police force, according to McCrory.

“It is not used for traffic enforcement,” he said. “We’re not going to be writing tickets off of this. One of the most important things I think for community members is it’s not connected to any registration data. We do not get a tag. It’s not connected to DMV or anything like that.”

Privacy concerns and access to personal data were discussed during the meeting. McCrory was keen to empathize that while there may be a perception of “Big Brother is watching you,” there are strict guidelines on protecting local citizens’ privacy.

McCrory said that data obtained from the Flock cameras would be stored on a secure cloud network and that the Casa Grande Police Department would own the footage, not Flock.

He said there would be a 30-day period after which data that is not of investigative use would be deleted from the system. He also added that an audit trail (where officers access recorded info) would be provided.

“An officer just can’t get on this system and see how many vehicles or what vehicles went through Trekell and Cottonwood,” McCrory said. “They have to provide a reason for the search that is captured. It provides an audit trail that we can view.”

McCrory also added that he believes the Flock system provides a good balance of gathering important suspect information but also has in place protection of citizens’ privacy.

“As an agency, we believe that this vendor has a product that strikes a perfect balance between effective and efficient police technology,” said McCrory. “I think there’s enough checks and balances in this system that it should alleviate people’s concerns. There’s a very good balance between what it captures to make us more effective, make us more efficient and still maintain the privacy factor.

“We’re not going to see somebody’s running to Dairy Queen when they told somebody that they were going to church, we’re not looking at that stuff,” quipped McCrory.

He told the council that the cost of each camera is about $2,500. He also said that in discussions with Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer, that his office had offered to pay for five of the cameras.

“He is sold on this with the results that he has heard from around the state as well as Maricopa already,” McCrory said of Volkmer. “We’d like to put up 20 (cameras) and talking to Kent today he has agreed to purchase at least five of that 20. That would save us about $12,150 to $13,000 if you include tax, so he’s committed to this.”

Retired Casa Grande Police Chief and now Councilmember Bob Huddleston told McCrory he is eager about the new technology and its capabilities.

“Well, first of all I’m excited about this,” Huddleston said. “I think this is the greatest thing in a long time. So, I am anxious to see what they can do.”

McCrory concluded his presentation and assured councilmembers that if the Flock technology didn’t live up to the expectations, his department could opt out.

“There’s a buyout clause that we would buy ourselves out of this if we’re not getting any positive results,” he said. “I really don’t think that’s going to be a factor for us. I think it’s going to keep us too busy, which is going to be good.”