Lt. Paul Hill urges Green Valley residents to call 911 immediately if they need help or see something out of place in the community during GVC's Board of Representatives meeting on Thursday. "We don’t get to say very often, ‘that’s not our job.’"

About once a day, someone walks into the Green Valley substation of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to report a crime or suspicious activity to Lt. Paul Hill, and he’ll wish he could help them out.

Often, reports come to the station a week, a month or sometimes several months after the incident took place, and Hill says there’s not much he or his deputies can do to help after the fact.

“People get a little irate that we didn’t respond to something or do something, but I tell them you’ve got to play fair with us – if you don’t tell us what’s happening, you can’t get mad at us,” Hill said.

“There’s a clear issue,” Hill explained during a forum at the Green Valley Council’s Board of Representatives meeting on Thursday.

“We have a problem here in Green Valley that when things are wrong or suspicious, people are not calling 911.”

What’s happening

The idea of 911 is simple: when you need to call for help, there’s an easy-to-remember, three-digit number that connects you with what you need. But although it’s a universal number that’s used across America, it doesn’t work the same everywhere.

“A lot of people’s perception of 911 is you only call when your house is on fire or someone is shooting at you. That is really not the case here,” Hill said.

In Pima County, the 911 system works more like a clearinghouse. Operators field a variety of calls – from medical emergencies to lost dogs – and are trained in how to triage them. It’s perfectly normal, Hill explained, to call 911 to report a person or activity that just seems suspicious.

“It’s really important, if you listen to your gut and think something’s wrong, that you give us a call,” Hill said. “We need your eyes and your ears to tell us what’s going on in your community.”

For people who may choose not to call 911 because they feel they’re being unhelpful or overloading the system, Hill said not to worry about that, either.

“We don’t want people to think they’re bothering us or calling in things that aren’t useful. It’s actually what we get paid to do, and what we want to encourage folks to do,” Hill said.

“We as law enforcement are kind of at the bottom of the food chain as far as problem-solving. We don’t get to say very often, ‘That’s not our job.’ Everything pretty much rolls downhill to us, and even if we’re not the primary people to address it, we have the contacts and other resources that can.”

Community benefits 

Beyond addressing problems in the community, calling 911 also helps law enforcement do their jobs.

“We actually solve a lot of crimes just from other people calling 911 and reporting suspicious activities,” Hill said.

“By reporting incidents, you’re also getting deputies out into your neighborhoods, and the simple fact of having a patrol vehicle around can itself be a kind of deterrent for crime.”

Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy agreed that calling 911 can have an even broader impact on the entire community.

“For elected officials, the 911 logs are something we get to use to justify more people and resources in our community. I tell all my residents to use 911 – it lets the dispatchers do their jobs and triage it, and it gives us the ability to even get more officers based on the official logs and that sort of thing,” Murphy said.

The biggest takeaway for Green Valley residents, Hill said, is that the 911 system in Pima County is there for you to use – when you see something that’s odd or doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to reach out.

“You folks know what’s right and wrong in your communities. You live here, you’re paying attention, so if something looks out of place, please call us as soon as possible – don’t delay.”

Mary Glen Hatcher | 520-547-9740

Mary Glen is a North Carolina native who's excited to explore the Tucson area through her reporting with Green Valley News. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media in 2019.

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