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Students at Sunnyside work on TPD lowrider

The students in the Sunnyside High School autobody class are helping with the next phase of the Tucson Police lowrider project, prepping the car for a new paint job.
TPD Lowrider at Sunnyside
Posted at 2:00 AM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 13:14:14-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — One of the most viral community projects for Tucson Police is getting whole new boost, thanks to students at Sunnyside High School.

As they round out the school year, kids in the auto-body class have been fixing up the police department's low rider.

"We're collaborating with the community and everybody benefits," explained police chief, Chad Kasmar.

The lowrider project has been years in the making. Last summer, Claire Graham showed you the new hydraulics police had installed in an old, retired police cruiser. They've also redone the interior, put on fancy wheels, and souped up the sound system, all without spending a dime of taxpayer money.

While we thought the car looked great, Kasmar, who's a gearhead himself, knew the ride could be a lot better. So he and his officers teamed up with the shop at Sunnyside, to let the students teach them what to do. They're working under the direction of their teacher, Armando Escalante, who has run the shop and class for decades.

"We're basically doing paint prep," explained Kasmar. "I mean, this was a patrol car, so there are dents and dings and cracks, and some of those can be sanded out. Some of those you have to put a body filler in, and that's effectively what everybody's working on. The Sunnyside auto-body team here is going to work, and they're comfortable! They're telling me what to do, and they have no idea who I am, which is awesome."

The students all took right to the project, despite their new classmates, who all happened to be Tucson Police officers.

20-year-old Alexa Lizarraga is a senior in Sunnyside's auto-body class. She grew up around body shops, and really had no problem taking the lead.

"They were like, 'don't be scared. You guys can tell us what to do. We're gonna be doing whatever you guys want,' and I was like, 'I'll be the boss!'" she explained, talking about the officers. "It's a really good experience, because they teach us things as we teach them things."

That dynamic is helping to bridge the exact gap this lowrider car aims to close, as something police and the community can bond over.

"You know, while they're working on the car right now, they're actually talking about like, 'Hey, do you work on your own car? Do you work on cars? And so the car itself becomes the glue for community to come together," Kasmar said.

With this project, the work is a particular investment in the future. Not only teaching students a valuable, marketable skill, working on cars, but they're also learning the value of police.

"Nowadays, teenagers are really in a hard situation, Lizarraga said. "And I think this helps us to develop what else we can do, or what else we can go for, and that we're not alone. They're with us and they're here."

From here, Tucson Police are looking to paint the newly prepped car to make it look spectacular, so they can get back out to the car shows and events they've grown to embrace.

"Tucson is just such an amazing place to live, work and play," Kasmar said. "And this is how we do it."

Police say this entire lowrider project has been happening through donations and fundraising, largely through some of the car shows that have happened around town. If you'd like to contribute to the project, you can reach out to Tucson Police.

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing claire.graham@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.