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Police Officer Sgt. Guillermo Arrubla

Guillermo Arrubla has been a police officer for 21 years. The 42-year-old Colombian American is a Sergeant with the Community Engagement Team of the Phoenix, Arizona Police Department. Utilizing his own experience with addiction, he is utilizing his job to help incarcerated drug addicts overcome their addictions and change their lives. 

“Success With Effort & Training (SWET) without Bars” is a six-week program that utilizes physical fitness to assist with drug rehabilitation and reentry. Police officers visit a Maricopa County Department of Corrections facility named Maricopa Reentry Center (MRC) weekly to work with residents who are offenders and are in drug rehabilitation.

SWET Program discussion in Phoenix, Arizona.
SWET Program discussion in Phoenix, Arizona.

Officers and residents engage in a 30-45 minute discussion prior to each workout session in a classroom. We discuss topics such as trauma-informed care, life-skills, critical-thinking, addiction, and police interaction.

Following the classroom discussion residents partake in a one and half hour workout session led by the officers. The focus is on how fitness can help in recovery. The activity also helps the body release toxins. In addition, it creates an environment for offenders to interact with law enforcement in a non-enforcement manner.

The program has multiple goals. First, to assist individuals struggling with addiction by providing an outlet via fitness. Second, to provide a new perception of law enforcement to individuals who may not have the most favorable view.

Arrubla leading exercises during SWET.

Another goal is to inspire and provide support to individuals who are truly seeking to change their lives. Lastly, it helps create a positive environment at a facility where individuals are fighting to regain normalcy.

Officers continue to assist participants with reintegration when they graduate from MRC and SWET. They collaborate with community organizations to coordinate reentry programs, help participants with transportation, assist participant’s families, provide resources for employment and housing, and even opportunities for community service.

Participant who graduate also get to pay it forward. They talk to at-risk youth through a program hosted by the Phoenix Police Department.

Arrubla on duty with kids in his Phoenix community.

I founded this program in May 2019 to serve an often forgotten community. I lead the exercises which focus on pure calisthenics. This program was initiated through the Community Engagement Team, which I am part of, which has a city-wide responsibility, unlike a precinct. 

I grew up around addiction and have first-hand experience on the damage it inflicts. Society and even families dismiss addicts because of their destructive behavior. I have also seen people conquer addictions. It is not easy nor is it a guarantee. It felt necessary to pioneer a program to help those who are willing to accept it. 

A note of gratitude to Arrubla.

We are currently working with our third group, which consists of 34 participants. Right now the program is specific to the adult male population. We are in the process of expanding the program to a women’s facility. 

The most difficult part is the introduction. Many participants are weary of law enforcement and have a distaste for us as well. So in essence, it is about earning their trust. Once that is achieved we have seen people flourish.

This program has truly been successful, but there is room for improvement. Participants have told us they are grateful for our presence. They have told us that they view law enforcement differently and have a newfound respect for us. They truly appreciate our presence in the facility.   

The most rewarding aspect for me has been the personal connections I have made with individuals who feel they have no one to turn to. I have received calls at all hours of the day from participants seeking advice and/or needing to vent. Them expressing their feeling and gratitude shows me that we are doing something right. 

About The Author

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Sergeant Guillermo “Memo” Arrubla is a Colombian native who was raised in New York. Memo joined the ranks of NYPD in 1998 where he served response, rescue and recovery efforts of the 9/11 attacks. In 2006, Memo transferred to Phoenix PD where he is currently serving as the Community Engagement Team Sergeant. In 2014, Memo founded Beat Street AZ, a non-profit organization which provides an innovative haven for youth that builds character, instills values and develops artistic skills through Hip-Hop culture. Memo has been the recipient of the City of Phoenix’s Employee Excellence Award, the Medal of Valor by the Department and the City of Honolulu’s Ocean Rescue, the Distinguished Service Award, the Geneva Financial "Hero of the Year" Award, ABLE’s Supervisor of the Year Award and “Police Officer of the Year."

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