TUCSON – Tucson Police Department’s Community Service Officers respond to minor traffic accidents and other low-priority calls. The city’s 40 CSO’s are not police officers. Instead of carrying guns, tasers or handcuffs, they have collapsible batons and pepper spray. Community Service Officers have begun patrolling city parks in a one-year pilot program.
Homeless men at Santa Rita Park on the south side say the CSO’s limited arsenal is not enough.
“These people will be the least armed people in the park.” That’s the opinion of 59-year-old Martin Beemon. He’s homeless and well-armed. Besides having pepper spray, Beemon carries several large knives and a hammer in his backpack.
Jim Parks is the executive director of AZCOPS, a police union with 2600 members statewide. Parks says he would like to see police officers patrol the parks. He says he’s heard concerns from cops about the new program. “The concern was putting these community service officers out there that are untrained into an environment where they can get themselves injured or, God forbid, killed.”
Frank Greene spent 32 years in TPD and was a captain when he retired last year. Greene says having CSO’s patrol parks, “Is just wrong. It is dangerous and irresponsible.”
However, Councilman Steve Kozachik said, “What these [union] guys are upset about is that we can hire a CSO for less than half of what it costs for hiring a cop, including their benefits. This is an absolute budgetary win for the city, for the community.” Kozachick and his colleagues unanimously approved the park ambassador program, at a cost of $500,000 from the TPD budget.
Kozachik said, “They’re not forced to go and confront dangerous people. They’re on radio, they received training, and they have backup support if they need them.”
Ten CSO’s patrol in two-person units, so a total of five patrols will be out at the same time in different parks. They make less than police officers; CSO’s starting salary is $15.30 an hour.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked Deputy Police Chief Chad Kasmar if the department considered putting real cops in parks. “Sure,” Kasmar said. But he said TPD felt this was the best way to utilize CSO’s, and remember, TPD is dealing with a shortage of officers.
Kasmar said, “We currently have police officers who have geographical ownership of parks within their respective areas throughout the city. The purpose of these folks (CSO’s) is not to enforce law, that’s what we have police officers for. The purpose of the park safety program is for these individuals to be ambassadors.”
Back at Santa Rita Park, homeless man Michael Magazine hopes the CSO’s do help make the park and others safer, but is concerned.
“The people that are here are hard-headed, most of them. And if they want to do something this person is going to get hurt if they don’t have a gun,” he said.
Deputy Chief Kasmar emphasized that the Community Service Officers will be ambassadors for those in the parks, and said, “We’re not asking them to enforce or address criminal behavior, that’s what police officers are for.”
While all 128 of the city’s parks are included in the program, increased emphasis will be placed on the larger and more populated parks. The CSO’s are patrolling on foot, in vehicles, and, this summer, some will be on bicycles.
If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at email@example.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.