Officer Aguilar knows Tucson

By Johnny Maccaslin/Arizona Sonora News

University of Arizona Police Officer Jesus Aguilar is no stranger to the Tucson community. Everyday, Aguilar shows up to work in the same uniform with the same cup of coffee. Knowing he faces a lot of pressure to protect the community, Aguilar keeps his same composure day after day. He goes about his job with compassion and empathy.

Aguilar grew up on the south side of Tucson, raised by a single mom in a working class family. He would hear stories about drive-by shootings and fights by students at the elementary school he attended. He would hear about crime growing up, but rarely would witness any. It wasn’t until he became a police officer, when he realized the amount of crime that existed not only the south side, but in many other areas in Tucson.

“For me, it seemed like a typical neighborhood,” he says. “When I first became a police officer for Tucson Police I remember hearing, ‘Oh, it’s a high crime area, there’s gang issues and all that kind of stuff,’” says Aguilar.

Aguilar carries himself the same way whether he’s on or off work: he is always aware of his surroundings.

“Even on my days off I’ll be really conscious of where I’m at. It’s pretty standard for officers when they are in a building to be aware of where the door is at, because if a threat comes in they want to be able to address it,” says Aguillar. “One thing my wife has pointed out when we go to a restaurant, is that I am always sitting facing the door. For me it’s just subconscious I am just so used to it.”

While growing up on the south side, Aguilar would notice police officers patrolling his neighborhood. This in a lot of ways inspired Aguilar to become a police officer. He loved the idea of wearing the uniform and protecting the community that shaped him. 

“That’s part of why I joined Tucson Police,” says Aguilar. “I felt really proud when I had that opportunity to actually work with them because I remember them patrolling my neighborhood. It was really cool to say, ‘Hey, I remember that as a kid’ and now I’m one of them. Now I’m wearing that uniform, now I am driving that car. It’s like being in love with Batman and then you get to become him.”

Aguilar is serious when he brings up the comparison to Batman, the superhero who relies on fancy gadgets and a really fast car. As a kid, Aguilar fantasized with the idea of driving a fast car while using cool gadgets to protect his city.

He’s a graduate from the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in public administration and policy. Right out of college in 2009, Aguilar applied and accepted a job from Tucson Police. Four years later, he moved to Seattle to seek new opportunities; there he served as an officer for just a year-and-a-half. Soon after he moved, he realized how much he missed the community and how important it was to him.

“When I came back here it was like a newfound respect for the city. I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else, to be honest,” says Aguilar. “Sure, there may be more opportunities in a bigger city but I feel like you lose having the ability to have a connection with that community.” 

Aguilar accepted a job with the University of Arizona Police Department in February 2018. Now he was raising a family of his own in Tucson, recognizing how the community has changed over the years.

“Were seeing the city definitely diversify a lot more as it grows,” says Aguilar. “Which I think is a good thing … That’s what the U.S. represents, a mix of cultures and backgrounds.” 

Yet from his perspective as a police officer, this has presented the challenge of enforcing laws to all kinds of people, who have different cultural backgrounds and are accustomed to different laws. And this is something that plays out whether you are a city cop or a university cop. For Aguilar, the biggest difference between the two is the amount and the kind of calls the two law enforcement agencies receive.

“If you look at (Tucson Police Department) calls versus our calls, the number of calls they respond to on a daily basis are a lot more than we will. They tend to respond to more extreme situations,” says Aguilar. “So they’ll have a lot of violent incidents, a lot of shootings, a lot of homicides. We have had some of those incidents happen on campus, but definitely not to the level that Tucson Police does.” 

City police work tends to deal with more violent situations, while university police deal with things such as bike thefts, property damage, underage drinking, and the rare instance of a school shooting. Yet one of the unique challenges Aguilar faces as a UAPD officer is getting to know the population.

“We have to be more aware of our population and have a better understanding of who they are because, you know, we deal a lot with students, right?” says Aguilar. “Not only students, but generally students from other areas of the country and even international students.”

Knowing the population and establishing communication with fraternity and sorority houses is an important part of being a university cop. For Aguilar, protecting and serving in the community he calls home is very rewarding. Aguilar has served the neighborhood he was raised in and now in the university he attended.

“I was a police officer in the neighborhoods that I grew up in when I was with Tucson Police, but I was a student here on campus too,” says Aguilar. “I’ve had that kind of joy: to be able to come back and say, ‘Hey, I’m serving and protecting the community that I was once and in some cases, still a part of.’ I know what it’s like to be a student, so when I’m dealing with students, even if it’s in sometimes negative situations, I can at least empathize with them and say, ‘No I get the stresses.’ I can relate to them and say, ‘Hey, I get what you’re potentially going through because I was a student here too.’”

Officer Aguilar one day hopes to be in a position of power where he can set the policies, or move into a supervisory or a command role. He’s always thinking about how he can make Tucson a better place. He wants people to come here and embrace it like he has.

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