By Romi Carrell Wittman –
2015 Tucson Founders Award Honoree – Clarence Dupnik
We often hear people touting the length of their careers – 25 years, 30 years and more. But few can hold a candle to retired Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s 57-year career in law enforcement.
Despite that impressive figure, Dupnik was taken aback to learn he’d been selected to receive a 2015 Greater Tucson Leadership’s Founders Award.
“To say I was shocked is an understatement,” he said. “I certainly had no idea why the committee selected someone like me. I’m very honored.”
His modesty is typical.
“He’s a very deserving, good man,” said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. “After giving 19 years of service to the citizens of Tucson as a member of the Tucson Police Department, most would think that was enough. Not Sheriff Dupnik. He continued to give and give and give.”
Dupnik attended the University of Arizona and joined the Tucson Police Department in 1958, a position he held until he joined the Sheriff’s Department as chief deputy in 1977. He was appointed Pima County Sheriff in February 1980 and ran for election to the post in November of that same year. He was elected an incredible nine times to four-year terms as sheriff. He officially stepped down on July 31, 2015.
Dupnik has no shortage of supporters, people who admire him for his work as sheriff as well as his personal philanthropic nature.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall worked closely with Dupnik over the years.
“There has always been an enormous amount of solidarity, collaboration and teamwork between the Sheriff’s Department and my office,” she said. “Simply put, we are in the business of law and order together. My respect for him is deep and abiding. He is a man of courage, conviction and character.”
Among his many achievements was the establishment of the drug-prevention group Tucsonans for a Drug-Free Workplace, which evolved into Arizonans for a Drug-Free Workplace. Dupnik also organized the Sheriff Auxiliary Volunteers, a nationally recognized, award-winning crime-prevention program to train law-enforcement volunteers. There are now more than 200 SAV volunteers working in the Tucson, Green Valley and Ajo areas.
Dupnik also worked tirelessly to forge alliances with local law enforcement and emergency personnel. This vision led to the cross-agency development of the Pima County Wireless Integrated Network, a communications system representing a quantum leap in technology and interoperability for the county’s law enforcement, fire service and public works communities. For the first time, local public safety and service organizations are united on a single state-of-the-art network.
Seeing a need to address the correlation between mental health issues and violent criminal activity, the Mental Health Investigative Support Team was created under Dupnik’s direction. This program is designed so that individuals with mental health challenges receive necessary treatment and support.
The Pima Regional SWAT team, the largest, most capable tactical team in the state of Arizona and the only FEMA Type 1 tactical team in the southern region of the United States, was also created under Dupnik’s leadership. It includes officers and medical personnel from seven Pima County public safety agencies who work together to resolve dangerous incidents.
Dupnik also instituted the first Border Crime Unit to offer a mechanism for state and local law enforcement officials to cooperatively address the illegal human and drug trafficking trades. The Border Crime Unit grew from five deputies to a multiagency task force comprised of 18 deputies, Border Patrol agents and officers from the Department of Public Safety while becoming a national model for border crime task forces.
Over Dupnik’s 38-year tenure, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department gained a reputation as one of the nation’s best due to Dupnik’s innovative and effective leadership. That style spilled over into all aspects of Dupnik’s life.
“His contribution to the community went way beyond law enforcement,” Nanos said. “He was always giving of his time and money to nonprofits, churches, schools, the elderly and the young. Sheriff Dupnik continues to this day to give of himself, always putting the needs of others in front of his own.”
“I’ve been involved in many different events and communities,” Dupnik said. “I had a chance to meet a lot of good people. It made it easier to do my job because they supported me and the Sheriff’s Department.”
Dupnik added that he is humbled by the honor. “The men and women who have served with you have helped make that happen. I felt, basically, it was like a huge family.”