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DIGGING DEEPER: TPD will no longer respond to certain calls due to staffing

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Tucson Police Department will no longer respond to certain calls from medical check welfare to runaways.

This was revealed in a recent email communication from Police Chief Chris Magnus to the department.

Chief Magnus said in the letter, "Call demand far exceeds the number of officers available to address it."

According to the Fraternal Order of Police State president, staffing level is no longer a crisis. He said Tucson police staffing is on life support.

"For the taxpayers, I would be severely concerned with the level of public safety you're going to have in your community, in our community," said Sgt. Paul Sheldon, a 20-year veteran of the police department. "It breaks my heart to see us down nearly 400 police officers in a city that has grown considerably over 20 years and continues to grow to this day there's one department that continues to shrink."

According to Sheldon, the department currently has 765 officers. When he joined, there were 1,100.

Over the last two and a half months, 30 officers have left the department. Currently, 14 recruits are in the 23-week police academy. They will be ready to hit the streets in July.

But those 14 recruits will not even begin to make a dent in the number of positions currently vacant.

That number is growing.

Sgt. Richard Gradillas is in charge of recruitment and also heads the public information office.

"We have a lot of people retiring because they have done their time," Gradillas said. "So, we're looking for that new generation that is coming into the workforce."

Other concerning issues, according to the memo for Sgt. Sheldon, is the long list of calls they no longer will be responding too such as runaways.

"We live in a time and age of sexual exploitation of minors and runaways have the tendency of some the reasons they runaway is right down that kind of path," he said. "Loud music and loud noise calls. Loud parties have a history in this city of turning violent. And we're not going which scares me."

According to Sheldon, TPD has also stopped responding to some traffic accidents, alarm calls and property crimes.

"We just direct you to the website and you do your own police report," he said. "At some point, somebody has got to say enough is enough and let us get out there and do our job the right way."

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachick acknowledged there's a problem.

"We have a critical staffing issue in TPD and that we need to deal with it," he said. "One of the ways we deal with that is a with pay disparity."

Kozachik said the union also has to do its part.

"Everything has to be on the table," he said. "Everybody has got to be willing to sit down at the negotiating table and say let's find some solutions because this is a very difficult job to hire into and we don't have a boatload of cash to be dealing with it."

Bottomline, most of the experienced officers are leaving TPD for higher-paying jobs with other departments.

For example, Queen Creek is starting a new police department.  They are paying officers nearly $20,000 more than TPD.

We requested an interview with Chief Magnus and were told the memo speaks for itself.

From: Chris Magnus <Chris.Magnus@tucsonaz.gov>
Sent: Thursday, March 4, 2021 6:33 PM
Subject: Patrol Staffing Staffing-Our First Priority 

It’s no secret that our department is facing a staffing shortage. Call demand far exceeds the number of officers available to address it. Although the stress of reduced staffing takes a toll on the entire department, it’s most impactful to our patrol officers, who bear the burden for us all. Increased recruiting and decreased attrition certainly stand as important parts of the solution, but neither provides immediate relief. To keep our patrol divisions staffed at a safe level critical changes must be made. 

Lowering Demand-Relief for Patrol The most expedient way to reduce the demand on patrol involves changing our service delivery. That means keeping certain call types from ever showing up on your boards. Simply put, we have all thought about and identified those calls that should not involve a police response, and probably never should have. Now is the time to turn those thoughts into action. These changes you see below won’t happen with the flip of the switch. Instead, they will be phased in overtime in a way that takes into consideration a wide range of factors. This list is not all-inclusive, as we are looking at every type of call for service, but it’s a start that will get us moving in the right direction. A direction that involves putting you in a position to handle the calls that police officers should. (A shout out and thank you- to the patrol sergeants who assisted in identifying a number of these call types). 

Coming off the Board- Near Term: Contraband at schools, hospitals, and courts (except firearms) Deaths at medical care facilities Non-criminal homeless calls on public property Loud music/loud noise calls Medical check welfare Uncooperative victims at hospitals Non-criminal transports (medical, detox, shelter, etc.) 

Coming off the Board- Longer Term: All code enforcement Trespassers inside certain abandoned properties Civil matters (Landlord-Tenant disputes, child custody issues) Runaways Mental health check welfares (see note below about CMT) Suicidal subjects (see note below about CMT) Panhandling, UIP, DIP Financial crimes Abandoned line Making More of Crisis Mobile Teams CMT, or Crisis Mobile Teams, which you have all benefited from at some point, need to be utilized whenever possible. The more we use them, the more staffing they get. The more staffing they get, the more we can use them. You get the picture. More training on this will be coming shortly but the bottom line is that if you have a situation that they may be able to help you with, or that they may be able to handle outright, then make the call. 

More Officers on the Street There is no easy way to do this. No one likes having their lives disrupted, and the way personnel moves occur must take that into account.

For this reason, all patrol divisions will be conducting a rebid as quickly as possible in order to facilitate the following: Traffic Safety officers will spend at least half of their time taking calls for service (they will be able to maintain certifications) The majority of Prisoner Transport Unit officers will return to patrol Some academy staff will return to patrol The majority of the Mayoral Security detail will return to patrol Commander Contraction PSB divisions will decrease to two lieutenants each via attrition. Vacancies in non-patrol functions will be left open where possible. Transforming Operations at Commo PSCD is facing its own staffing crisis. If you can believe it, it’s worse than ours. With the significant reduction in the types of calls that we are going to, and the need to develop the alternative response mechanisms necessary to fill the void, we need department staff in place to oversee the transition.

Understand that none of these staff are pulled from active patrol. The following four people are temporarily assigned to communications: Non-patrol commander Office of Professional Standards sergeant Two long term light-duty officers The Way Ahead We recognize this is a temporary fix to an ongoing problem. We will be continuing to look for service and process improvements.

If you have any ideas, now is the time to bring them forward. 

Chris Magnus

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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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