ARIZONA NEWS

Gilbert Police Department may add new position solely focused on helping youth, chief says

Apr 3, 2024, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:12 pm

Youth engagement officer position Gilbert Police Department Arizona...

The Gilbert Police Department may create a new position solely focused on serving teens and children in the town. (Gilbert Police Department photo, left, Pexels stock photo, right)

(Gilbert Police Department photo, left, Pexels stock photo, right)

PHOENIX — Gilbert Police Chief Michael Soelberg said his department is considering expanding its staff to combat the rise of youth violence in the East Valley.

“We’re looking for different ways of expanding our reach to the community,” Soelberg told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Wednesday.

In fact, they might add a new position within the police department that specifically focuses on serving young people in the town.

“It’s a youth community engagement officer to focus on our engagement of our youth,” Soelberg said.

Youth engagement officer would give Gilbert PD new way to help kids

Currently, Gilbert PD has multiple initiatives to help prevent teen violence and other crimes.

It has 12 school resource officers — also known as SROs — as well as anti-bullying programs within Gilbert’s three school districts.

“That’s just one tool in the toolbelt,” Soelberg said. His department also educates all incoming freshmen about what to do in dangerous situations and how to report crimes.

Gilbert PD also has various youth engagement initiatives such as the Gilbert Youth Leadership Academy. This initiative teaches students about community involvement, public speaking and leadership.

There’s also a summer program as well as the Aspire Academy, a four-day camp that inspires girls in Gilbert high schools, he added.

Essentially, adding the position of youth engagement officer would expand the department’s current strategies, Soelberg said.

Gilbert PD focuses on youth after death of Preston Lord

The October 2023 death of a 16-year-old named Preston Lord after a group attack in Queen Creek highlighted the issue of youth violence in the East Valley.

Soelberg and Queen Creek Police Department Chief Randy Brice both said it’s difficult to investigate violent cases that aren’t reported.

However, things are slowly changing, Soelberg said. The fact that the QCPD arrested seven people suspected of killing Lord makes people more willing to step forward.

Gilbert PD’s pursuit of youth violence suspects also gives victims the confidence to report attacks, he added.

“Obviously, making arrests in all of these cases, specifically in the Preston Lord homicide case with Queen Creek, it brings the reality of actions have consequences and these people will be held accountable,” Soelberg said.

That’s the message going forward, he added.

“These people will be held accountable,” he said. “We need the community to report these crimes to us and the other agencies.”

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Gilbert Police Department may add new position solely focused on helping youth, chief says