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N4T Investigators: Officer shortage causes TPD traffic enforcement shake up

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The Tucson Police Department is facing a staffing shortage and it’s resulting in a major change of routine for its traffic enforcement. 

TPD doesn’t want to talk to you about the shortage. The N4T Investigators made multiple requests for an interview, however, a department spokesperson said TPD isn’t doing any interviews about staffing but would be able to do interviews on other topics. 

It took the N4T Investigators nearly two months to get staffing numbers from 2000 to 2020, after filing a public records request. It took a direct message to Chief Chris Magnus questioning the delay to suddenly get the request fulfilled within a couple of days after. The returned request said they could not find staffing numbers for the year 2000, but showed 697 officers on staff in 2005, 642 in 2010, 569 in 2015 and down to 571 officers by 2020.  

Paul Sheldon, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Tucson Chapter said he has seen the shortage swell over the past decade. 

“But particularly in the last four or five years, we’ve watched that staffing deficiency grows to a level not even I anticipated,” Sheldon said. 

The shortage has caused the Department’s traffic safety division to spend a majority of its time on other calls. A department spokesperson sent us an email the Chief sent to staff saying that traffic officers must spend 50 percent of their time taking other calls for service as well as prisoner transport officers and the mayor’s security detail. 

“We’re directing more phone calls to the internet for people to file their own police reports, we’re not responding to traffic accidents baring some other extenuating circumstances and it just continues because the numbers are not improving,” Sheldon said. 

Sheldon said he believes pay is partly to blame but he believes the Mayor and City Council have failed to make it a priority for years. 

“Really the blame for this staffing crisis falls on their shoulders,” he said. 

But the city disputes his comments and said the FOP only represents a small fraction of the officers. Mayor Romero’s office sent the N4T Investigators the following statement: 

"Mayor and Council recently passed a historic compensation package that will increase wages earned by all city employees - including our police officers - to market-rate levels that are competitive with other jurisdictions. With this action, the pay scale for TPD officers has surpassed all Southern Arizona departments. This compensation adjustment is just beginning to go into effect, and we are optimistic it will help address recruitment and retention issues that are present throughout all city departments." 

The Tucson Police Officers Association, the union representing a majority of officers, praised the compensation package in a Facebook post on May 5. The post read as follows: 

“Today, with the appreciated support and direction from Mayor Romero, the Council unanimously approved a historic compensation package! This is the largest raise TPD employees have ever seen. This raise leverages TPD to be competitive on a state level. Our pay scale has surpassed all the Southern Arizona departments and is now on par with the top Phoenix Valley agencies. The compensation plan helps triage attrition and communicates value for the job you perform. It should be noted that for the first time CSO's were included in these compensation talks.  

The approval of our raises is the direct result of TPOA being the only recognized bargaining unit. Since November of 2020, members of the TPOA Board have engaged in discussions to make this raise come to fruition. The effort was a culmination of relationship building with Mayor and Council, the City Manager, not picking public rock fights with decision makers, hours of collaboration, a strategic media campaign that led to community support, and at times heated discussions. Throughout the arduous process, we asked you to be patience, even though at times it felt like we weren’t making progress on your behalf. You waited and we delivered. 

I would be remiss if I didn't thank Chief Magnus for his efforts. Behind the scenes, he fought on our behalf and repeatedly highlighted the case for competitive pay. 

A big thank you to our community and our members for their unwavering support through this process.” 

Tucson Police Officers Association Facebook Post

The city said it is still too soon to know what effect the pay raise will have on the shortage but it’s optimistic that it will solve the problem. 

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 955-4444.  

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Chorus Nylander

Chorus Nylander is the Chief Investigative Reporter for News 4 Tucson. He is focused on giving the voiceless a voice and holding the powerful accountable.

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