CARY — As a police officer in Cary, Josh Fulbright doesn’t spend much time pulling over speeding drivers or arresting suspects.
Instead, he talks to managers of apartment complexes about malfunctioning lights and abandoned cars, takes part in regular community events and occasionally plays a game of backyard football with neighborhood kids.
Fulbright is one of four Cary police officers assigned to Project PHOENIX, an initiative with 41 multifamily housing developments around town. The name stands for Promoting Healthy Occupancy through Education, Networking and Information eXchange.
Through the program, officers track police calls that come from participating neighborhoods and notify the housing managers of crimes that have taken place. They also partner with Cary’s parks and recreation program to host sports games and other activities for kids who live in the townhome and apartment developments.
Fulbright was recently named the town of Cary’s employee of the year for his efforts with Project PHOENIX. His team nominated him for the award, and he was chosen from among 20 nominees.
He is assigned to work with 10 housing communities, half of which are near the intersection of Kildaire Farm Road and Wrenn Drive.
Fulbright said the program allows him to take part in police work “from start to finish.”
Often, he said, law enforcement officials don’t know the outcome of a situation when they respond to a 911 call. Through Project PHOENIX, he sees the same people over and over again, without ever having to flash his badge.
He gets to know the people who manage the housing developments, and the people who live there – especially the kids.
“We are very much on a first-name basis,” he said. “It’s not Officer Fulbright – it’s Josh.”
‘A bad rap’
That’s the goal of Project PHOENIX – to form relationships between police and residents to create safe communities.
The program launched in 2011, and Fulbright joined the initiative the following year.
Fulbright, 27, knew early on he wanted a career in law enforcement. He grew up in western North Carolina and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from N.C. State University in 2008.
After graduation, he attended the police academy in Wilson and took a job with the Cary Police Department.
He was raised by a single mother, and Fulbright said that aspect of his upbringing helps him relate to some of the children who live in the communities he oversees.
“We see a lot of good kids in bad situations,” Fulbright said. “They’ve made bad choices, their parents have made bad choices. But we try to mentor them.”
Over the years, he said, some apartment complexes in Cary “started getting a bad rap.”
Multifamily housing developments in town don’t generate a higher percentage of crime than other neighborhoods, he said.
But the areas are denser, with more people. Five of the complexes in Fulbright’s area contain 627 apartments.
“To say this is a bad area just because there’s all these people – it’s not,” he said.
Communities that volunteer to take part in Project PHOENIX must host at least one community event each year and state in rental leases that they are drug and crime free.
Employees of the housing developments also have access to one-day workshops in which they learn about legal issues and the role of the police department.
“We’re trying to form a mutually beneficial relationship,” Fulbright said. “The goal is hopefully they will take steps to better their community.”
A focus on children
Children enjoy the events through Project PHOENIX, said Andrea Ligouri, assistant manager at the Oxford Square apartment complex off of SE Maynard Road.
“It makes a difference in lives, it really does,” she said. “They overall just give the kids something to look forward to.”
Fulbright spends a lot of time helping adults make sure their communities are as safe as they can be. But it’s also about children.
“I think that’s the best part, seeing these kids,” he said. “They’ll come up and say, ‘Hey Josh.’ ”
Fulbright figures he can retire in September 2038. That gives him a lot of time to form relationships in Cary.
“I’m going to do the most until then to make the most of it,” he said. “Every day’s a gift.”
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