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Remembering Curtis Thomas: A Legend at the Salt River Police Department

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Curtis Thomas has passed away at 62. He was known for his dedication to the Salt River Police Department and to his Community. He spent more than half of his life, 41 years, working as a dispatcher, and his current title was SRPD public safety communications manager. His sudden death shocked his family, friends and the Community.

Thomas was born in Los Angeles and lived there for about eight years. He and his four brothers found themselves roaming the city streets when his father was working the graveyard shift. Thomas’ mother passed when he was seven. The mischief the brothers got themselves into is something remembered with laughs by Thomas’ big brother Huey; he wouldn’t talk specifically about what the brothers did, but the sad faint smile on his face made it clear that those are memories he will forever cherish.

“As brothers, we’ve done things that we really regretted or we thought, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t have done that,’” Huey remembered.

The Thomas family found themselves back in the Community after Los Angeles.

Huey said his brother was dealt a bad hand from the beginning.

“He contracted polio and was in the hospital for most of his early years,” Huey said. “He endured many operations, leg casts and braces to strengthen his leg, [but] he still stayed positive. He had a limp, because polio does shrink your legs. I’m sure everyone noticed. He didn’t talk about his illness that much. It was more of, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ He was a guy who never complained despite how bad things got.”

At the age of 21, Thomas heard about an open dispatcher position with the SRPD and applied. Little did he know then that he would go down in SRPD history. Aside from working as a dispatcher, he did an occasional ride-along with the police officers. Throughout the years, he progressed in his career and felt right at home with his SRPD family.

“He never really put the spotlight on himself. He was very vocal when it comes to his job, but in essence he was a really private person,” said Huey. “Curtis was dedicated. You could find him at any time of the day, any hour—he gave up a lot of his time to his job. He didn’t get out much, but everyone knew him. For 41 years, he’s probably met and dealt with a lot of people. He enjoyed what he was doing.”

“Curtis and I worked together for 25 years. He was my direct report for 17 years and my friend,” said Acting Chief of Police Karl Auerbach. “Curtis was skilled and very knowledgeable, and he also had a great sense of humor. We’d joke often, saying that if the computer systems didn’t work, the Community could turn to us as the wise old historians, since we were the ‘two old guys’ still left in the department.”

Thomas’ duties included providing training and ensuring that the SRPD Communications Division was meeting standards and compliance with the Arizona Department of Public Safety so the SRPMIC and SRPD could have their own Arizona Criminal Justice System computer access.

“In fact, the SRPD was the first police department within tribal enforcement in Arizona to meet these comprehensive standards,” said Auerbach.

Thomas was also part of the team for the design, installation and operations of the 911 system, the New World Computer-Aided Dispatch system, the Law Enforcement Records Management System, and the Digital Data Recorder System.

He also played a role in SRPD becoming a Public Safety Access Point and the Public Safety Radio Communications Project, an $8.5 million, state-of-the-art radio communications system consisting of five new towers/antenna sites, 340 new portables and mobile radios, full multi-agency interoperability, and the SRPD’s new Communications Center.

“[Since our 2014 launch date], our new communications system and communications center has absolutely improved our service, operations and response to calls for service and enhanced police officer, firefighter and our Community’s safety,” said Auerbach.

In a 2010 Au-Authm Action News issue, Thomas celebrated 35 years on the job for the Community. In the article, Thomas said, “In 1975, those were different times compared to today. Technology has changed like night and day.”

Thomas also mentioned how he enjoyed being a liaison for the police, fire and EMTs. “We get the call first; we get them there and then the officers do their job. In a sense, every life saved, we had something to do with it.” At that time, Thomas also said he wasn’t sure if he could see himself with the Community for 40 years. He ended up surpassing that by one year.

Curtis Thomas will never be forgotten. He was the father of two and also a grandpa.

“He did all the things a father should do. Although he loved his sons, who were his pride and joy, his grandbaby, Brianna, was the apple of his eye. He loved her so much,” said Huey, who recalled their last conversation being about her.

His exceptional work, ideas and countless hours of service have gone toward the betterment of his Community. His superiors, family and friends knew what his job meant to him and knew of his dedication. He was truly a legend who helped to establish the foundation for a great communications system.

“One thing I will always remember was our ‘birthday wars,’” said Huey. He recalled one year when Thomas sent out a mass email with a photo of Huey at age 10 and asked everyone to wish him a happy birthday. This took Huey two days to clean up.

“I said to Curtis, ‘OK, You want to play that game?’ That started our birthday wars. The last one I did with him, I took out a full-page ad in Au-Authm Action News,” said Huey, laughing, adding that he planned to upgrade to a billboard the following year. However, Thomas declared Huey the winner, and as any brother would do, Huey never let him forget it.

“Curtis left us too early and unexpectedly, but he has left his mark with everyone he has met. That surely will not be forgotten. As for me, there is an emptiness that will stay with me forever. Now it is up to others in the police department to carry his torch. I am sure he will be watching,” said Huey.