Tucson police officers are patrolling the streets in spic-and-span vehicles, thanks to a recent partnership with the Beacon Group, which sends a crew of clients to clean the grime off crime-fighting cars.
The Beacon Group has been helping people with mental, physical or psychological disabilities find jobs throughout the community for 60 years and has contracts to provide staff in about 30 sites throughout Tucson to help with janitorial, groundskeeping, paper shredding, mechanical assembly, mailing and collating, and packaging work.
The organization has held a contract with Jim Click for several decades to wash vehicles at Click's car dealerships, and about two months ago added TPD to its carwash customers.
The department was looking for a way to cut down on time and money spent by sending patrol cars to the carwash, said Capt. Bill Richards, head of TPD's administrative support division.
"When we would have an officer take his or her car to the carwash, that officer was out of service for approximately, if it was quick it would be 15 minutes. Sometimes it would be closer to half an hour, depending on how busy the carwash is," Richards said. "So the officer, instead of spending that 15 or 30 minutes at the carwash, is out on patrol and visible to the public."
The three-person carwashing crew, made up of two Beacon clients and a job coach, starts its day about 7:30 a.m. by making sure there's enough water, buckets and towels loaded in a truck. The crew hits one of five substations each day, as well as another site where the department keeps its crime-scene vehicles.
Job coach Mike Ingram usually hoses down several cars with a power washer while the other crewmembers quickly wipe the car and windows down, leaving sparkling black-and-white vehicles.
"We try to work together real good, and form as a team," Ingram said. "Everybody has a responsibility and knows that, and it kind of works as a process and a cycle. ... Each person is a cog in the wheel, and when they're really on, it really rolls really good."
For 21-year-old Adam DeBerry, a car fan who one day hopes to own a Lamborghini, the work suits him well.
"I always wanted to wash cars," said DeBerry.
He previously worked at a fast-food restaurant but enjoys the ability to focus on one task at a time while washing cars. He recently started helping hose down the cars with the power washer.
"I help with the hose, the towels ... making sure everything goes smoothly," he said.
Brenda Weber, 22, enjoys being able to work outdoors with a small group of people.
"When you're inside with a lot of people, there's like a lot of drama and they want you to be ... in it," she said. "It's pretty fun; it's better than staying inside, that's all I can say." She's been taken off the carwash crew for a few days to recover from a hand injury, but hopes to be back soon.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Ernie Cameron is filling in, and is saving his money to help pay for his wedding.
The crew averages about 55 cars a day, and the goal is to clean as many of the department's 450 cars as possible, said Dave Spear, services operations manager for the Beacon Group. The hope is that the crew will increase the number of cars it washes to about 70 a day, he said. Once a month, the crew also washes TPD's unmarked cars.
The service the crew provides has been well-received by several officers and detectives, who tell Richards the carwashing service is one of the "greatest things we've done in a long time," he said.
"For the department to have the opportunity to provide meaningful work to a very special segment of our community I know is very important to the chief, and it's equally important to every officer," Richards said. "We come to the garage; these folks are just great. They're working hard, they're smiling, they wave, they engage in conversation because they're so grateful that they're doing this for us, so it's more than just a cost benefit."
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at email@example.com or 573-4224.