There are many things that go on in this sleepy village of Heber-Overgaard even in the fall and winter months when everything seems so quiet. Especially for those of us who move here from a large metropolis, we are truly unaware of what it takes to provide services for our community from fire and police protection to trash. To help residents learn more about the work behind the scenes, Rim Country Community Center and REALTORS® Dee and Teressa McCluskey are bringing in people from our community from all walks of life for a 45-minute talk on the first Tuesday of each month.
On November 7, 2017, I had the privilege of listening to Arizona State Trooper Curtis Kuhn. A “natural” when it comes to public speaking, Trooper Kuhn shared a bit of his personal story as well as the mindset of those who work in today’s law enforcement. Trooper Kuhn is a family man with a keen sense of humor. He’s from a family with a long line of military men and women and he spent 10 years in the US Army in military intelligence. (His first joke was you know ‘military intelligence’ is an oxymoron, right?”) He joined the Arizona Department of Public Service in 2014 as a State Trooper and for the most part, loves his job. “I get to wear a gun and drive fast … and it’s a blast,” he quipped. But, as he shared in the opening video, the bad rap given law enforcement in the mainstream media bothers him. He shared, “My main motivation is to help keep people safe. I work for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and that’s my goal.”
“If you believe everything you see in the media, your perception may be that all law enforcement officers are aggressive, but that’s just not so. Remember that the major news outlets show what sells. We’re just normal people. We like to have fun; we have families, worries, feelings and concerns just like everyone,” Kuhn told the group. He explained we have rules and laws to keep us safe, and as state troopers, they work to keep the fight that is on the street, out of our homes. Just as a side point, if you think about all the drug busts that are made on I-40, a lot of that drug traffic comes through Heber and turns at State Route 277 on the way to Holbrook to the I-40. Trooper Kuhn has himself, not counting the other troopers, caught perpetrators carrying drugs worth well over $500 million since he was assigned to our area last February 2016! Let that sink in for a moment …
We all know there are budget constraints in our state and county and law enforcement is spread thin. DPS State Troopers provide back up for the Navajo County Sheriff Department as well as work the roadways to help protect the public. Many of us need protection from ourselves as we tend to drive over the speed limit. In reference to the 55 MPH speed limit from the top of the Rim into Heber, the speeds are set by engineers who take into account the amount of wildlife near the roads as well as the possibility of inclement weather. Trooper Kuhn said a common request is if he’ll give a warning instead of a ticket. I tell them, “You’ve had many warnings from the state – it’s called a speed limit sign and you’ve passed one approximately every three minutes on your drive to get here.” At 20 MPH over the speed limit, it’s considered “criminal speed” which will be ticketed but you can actually go to jail over it –handcuffs and all.
One thing Trooper Kuhn mentioned that was interesting is they are trained to stay ahead of the situation with the application of escalating force. If you’re pulled over and don’t get mouthy, the trooper (who’s just doing his or her job) will warn or ticket you and off you go. If a driver gets smart mouthed, the trooper then ramps us his reaction to maintain control of the situation. So, it pays to be nice. You’ll get your chance to argue your case in front of a judge.
If you see law enforcement vehicles with emergency lights on driving fast through town, they’re most likely headed to a call. Using the siren can sometimes cause other drivers to panic and make mistakes. We know in our town they’re not going after a doughnut as we don’t have any doughnut shops! Seriously, your friend or neighbor may be the one in need so don’t complain and just get the heck out of the way.
Trooper Kuhn worked I-10 for a while from Casa Grande to Marana and during one monsoon storm he had a college student hydroplane and end up in the median. He no sooner had asked her to sit in his back seat to stay dry while he took care of the details, when a second car spun out on the opposite side of the road. The guy was fine and said he’d wait until Kuhn was done with the first accident. Then a third car driven by another college student spun out. Kuhn told her she was fine and could go ahead and leave. She was too scared, so even though he encouraged her that it would be safer for her to be on her way, she said she could not. He asked her to move her car out of the way which she did. At that moment, cars four and five collided and now he’s calling for back up. Car six then collides into car number three (the female Kuhn had encouraged to leave) and flips her car upside down into the flooded median. Now he’s trying to get her out before she drowns while his dispatch is doing a welfare check on him since someone called in that they thought the trooper on scene had been hit.
That would be quite a day’s work. Kuhn explained car three’s father called him later to thank him for saving her life. He said, “I heard you tell my daughter over the phone it would be safer if she left. I just want to tell you thank you for doing your job.” With that Trooper Kuhn told us, “That’s what I enjoy the most about my job. Number one priority is to save a life and send them home to their family.”
He closed reminding us that law enforcement officers are just “normal people”. I would have to disagree – I say you are extraordinary people, Trooper Kuhn. Thank you for your courage and heart to serve!