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DIGGING DEEPER: How TPD’s officer shortage will affect Tucson residents

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The Tucson Police Department is losing more officers than ever.

Now, the situation has reached a critical point that could have an effect on residents' safety.

On May 29, TPD officers came face to face with hundreds of protesters.

The near-riot in downtown, happened following the death of George Floyd - who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

A few short weeks later, Sgt.  Jason Winsky told the Digging Deeper Team, " we've lost 23 officers since June, and that's way higher than our attrition rate."

The reason for the officers leaving?

Everything from retirement, to getting fired, to leaving TPD for other jobs.

"We are very concerned that this is a trend that's going to continue as the months roll on," Winsky said. "These are personnel we can not afford to lose."

Sgt. Steven Erdman has been with the department 22 years.

He has worked in various units, from internal affairs to investigating homicides.

Earlier this month, he officially retired. Despite this, he will be still hitting Tucson's pavements as he signed up for the Deferred Retirement Option Plan or D.R.O.P. program.

It's an incentive to keep experienced officers such as Erdman on-the-job.

"The pension board takes your retirement pension check and it's invested," he said. "Every year, you are guaranteed a certain rate of return."

Erdman plans on staying five more years.

However, according to Winsky, even with the D.R.O.P. program officers are still leaving.

"The chief pays very close attention to our attrition rate," Winsky said. "It's something that concerns him greatly."

It's also concerning for the community because the city invests at least $100,000 to hire, train and equip each new officer.

"There's a massive financial and time commitment to these folks when we bring them on," Erdman said.

Winsky said if officers keep leaving at the current rate, " You're going to see serious staffing shortages, which is going to increase call response times, which in many cases, is already too long."

He also added that another reason they are losing officers is due to low pay, as TPD are among the lowest paid officers in this area.

When he joined the department 16 years ago, there were more than 1,000 officers.  Today, there are 825, even as the city's population has nearly doubled.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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