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DIGGING DEEPER: South Tucson dealing with police shortage

SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz. – Public safety is one of the most important services a city can provide.

The city of South Tucson is doing the best it can with what they have.

The Digging Deeper team wanted to know how the city is dealing with a potentially dangerous shortage of police officers.

For nearly 80 years, South Tucson has been known as the pueblo within a city.

The people who live and work in the square mile area take pride in their community.

Last year, South Tucson Police responded to nearly 4,000 calls.

However, due to the city’s tight budget, the public safety department is running low on first responders.

When South Tucson Police Chief Manny Amado patrolled the streets of the city nearly 25 years ago as an officer, he was one of six on shift. That’s what the national standard is.

“Public safety is priority; the residents want to see more cops,” Chief Amado told News 4 Tucson.

Since he took over as chief two years ago, he is down two officers per shift, and when needed, he is the third responding to calls.

So are the citizens safe with two officers per shift?

“They’re as safe as they can be that two officers can provide as far as safety goes. Can they be safer? Yes,” Chief Amado told News 4 Tucson.

Trespassing is just one of the main crimes officers and residents deal with every day.

“Especially with the hotels, empty lots that are not really supervised by the landowners,” said South Tucson resident, Ed Beltran.

And residents tell News 4 Tucson, things can get even worse.

“Transients that live there, prostitutes that set up camp there, there are actually mattresses out there you know they bring their Johns there, do their thing and leave,” Beltran told News 4 Tucson.

Beltran and his wife have called South Tucson home for more than 20 years. His wife grew up here.

“The community does rally around the police and we want to do that and we support the police,” Beltran said.

He also knows the police department is understaffed.

“Needing more officers per shift here is a necessity definitely,” Beltran told News 4 Tucson.

Chief Amado also sees the need for more police officers.

“If I had more officers then certainly I could take a more proactive approach to addressing those issues,” Chief Amado said.

Some of those issues – taking down drug houses – is something South Tucson Police recently did despite being shorthanded.

“Just doing some aggressive enforcement we were able to make some arrests move some of the drug dealers out of here, put some pressure on them we couldn’t have done it alone,” Chief Amado told News 4 Tucson.

That’s why South Tucson Police are trying to work with the community on programs such as Neighborhood Watch to try and make the city safer.

“Because we’re not with you 24/7, and certainly two officers are not going to take care of 5,700 people at the same time,” Chief Amado said.

Residents say they appreciate the work the police are doing, despite a shortage of officers.

“It’s not that they’re not doing their job it’s just that there are not enough of police officers to do the job.” Beltran told News 4 Tucson.

Chief Amado grew up visiting family in South Tucson, and despite all the challenges, he says he is hopeful for the city’s future.

News 4 Tucson learned the city now has the opportunity to refinance a portion of its debt.

City Manager John Vidaurri sent News 4 Tucson the following information via email:

The City of South Tucson City Council met last night in a work session with our financial advisor and was presented with an opportunity to refinance outstanding bonded debt obligations that will provide significant savings to the City that the City Council can then allocate to City operational needs such as, personnel, equipment, and infrastructure.  We are looking at a closing on the refunding around late November of this year. 

Paul Birmingham

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