Officer Zach Upton Reaches out to Community


“There are a lot of kids out there, when they see a police officer, they start screaming and run away,” says Zach Upton, Sector 3 Liaison and Primary Recruitment Officer for the San Angelo Police Department. As a Liaison Officer, part of Upton’s job is to shake that scary police portrait and enable kids and the community to see the person behind the uniform.

“Two summers ago, we actually did a camp through the boy scouts,” he continues. “It was three days out at…the camp that they have at Lake Nasworthy. What we did is, for three days, we were in plain clothes and all we did was work with the kids, did activities with them.”

Three days of fishing, capture the flag, bow shooting and just hanging out, recalls Upton fondly from his desk in the Community Services building. The boys were a group of “high risk” youth selected from different rec centers and boys and girls clubs to participate in the campout by the Boy Scouts.

“Those are typically the ones that do see us and run the other way,” Upton said, grinning a bit as he adds, “We were there as their camp counselors.”

Each morning, the officers would show up in a camp T-shirt and shorts and spend the afternoon working with the boys and leading various activities. The last hour of the last day, the officers went and changed into their uniforms and came out to greet the kids. “It was good because it allowed the kids to realize that we’re just people like anyone else,” said Upton. “It was pretty neat to be able to do that…they were all asking if we were real officers.”

As with the children in the Boy Scout campout of summer 2012, Upton’s job on a daily basis is to get people to look past the badge and to clear the misconception that officers of the law are somehow different, distanced robots hardened by contact to the culprits of crime.

Simply put, he can relate. Upton wasn’t born the fist of justice, in fact he wasn’t even sure he wanted to be an officer until he turned 23.

“I actually worked in a restaurant, pretty well from when I was 18 up until then,” he says. “I thought about moving up into management, really wasn’t liking the way that worked and thought, ‘Do I really want to do this the rest of my life?’” he says. The short answer is no, so, spurred by the suggestion of a family member who’s in law enforcement, Zach Upton applied to the SAPD and got the job.

Following the 18-month probationary period as a patrol officer, a stroke of luck and perfect timing led Upton to his current position. “I knew that where I am now, whenever I got on, I knew that ultimately this is what I wanted to do,” Upton says. “Patrol, I got very lucky and pretty much just had to do the minimal amount of time you have to do on it. It was just luck, because I think it was November that I got off probation and December the position opened up and I started over here in January.”

Zach Upton has been with the SAPD for about five and a half years now, four of which he’s spent in the Liaison seat. Since his move over from Patrol, Upton has seen the Liaison services expanded and three new positions created for officers dedicated to four unique city sectors, and he’s been made the primary recruiter for the San Angelo Police Department.

“We were shorthanded when I first started,” says Upton. “Now, we’re a little more picky in who we get. We’re not going to go out like a military and be pushy, pushy, pushy. We want you to be interested in us. A lot of it us you contact us, and we’ll answer your questions.”

Upton says he gets about 5-10 phone calls and emails a day from citizens interested in becoming police officers, particularly when the SAPD is running a Civil Service Exam. The majority of the inquiries are about requirements, he says, such as whether or not one has to have a driver’s license and if credit history is a factor.

“Credit history actually tells a lot about a person. We don’t say you have to have this credit score…we look for a negative background…it’s sort of a way of judging maturity. You can’t have a DUI or DWI within 10 years of applying,” Upton says.

Officer Upton is a San Angelo native and plans to stick around the area to raise his kids. “My wife has family in the Dallas region, and traveling up there—what it’s like there, I just like San Angelo a whole lot better,” he said. “We know we don’t have everything, but there’s still plenty of stuff to do. It’s got—I don’t know if you’d call it a ‘small town feel’, but it’s still a little more cozy than a town where you’ve got 1 million people.”

Maintaining that cozy feel with the safety and assurances that come along with it is one of the things Upton loves most about his position at the police department.

“[I like] being able to help people know what resources are available to them,” he says. “A lot of what we do is common-sense-type things, but people get complacent and don’t think about it. Hopefully, [I can] give them deterrents…and help them avoid bad things from happening to them.”

With education and outreach the main duties of the position, Upton has been tasked with making prevention a priority, and relates directly to what the patrol officers are doing on the streets.

“Patrol, we’re working to get more toward the proactive,” he said, “but a lot of it is just call to call to call. You’re not really getting that time to help prevent the crime from happening in the first place, and that’s one of the main focuses [in my current position],” Upton says. With crime being averted from the onset, officers are free to deal with more major issues.

As a Liaison Officer, Upton meets with groups, organizations, daycares and citizens to provide them with knowledge and tips on crime prevention. The SAPD offers a variety of services to citizens and groups alike, including home security inspections, methods for securing windows and doors, robbery trainings for banks, and host of other security measures that may qualify citizens for discounts on security systems.

The services are free of charge and interested parties may inquire about them via the police department’s non-emergency number. Recruitment questions may also be directed here.

Citizens may also join Blue Watch groups on Facebook, an online version of Neighborhood Watch mediated by the corresponding officer for each sector of the city. The groups are private and individuals must pass a soft background check in order to be admitted. Interested parties may find the application on the SAPD’s website or Facebook page.

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