TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In an email sent to staff, Tucson Police Department Chief Chris Magnus said the department will stop responding to certain calls, citing long response times due to staffing shortages.
Some of those changes will happen quickly, but others will happen over a longer period of time.
The Tucson Police Officers Association (TPOA) said cutting back on calls because of staffing is “unfortunate” both for police and the community, but TOPA said it’s good these calls could be handled by crisis management. Magnus’ wrote calls like suicide attempts, landlord and tenant issues will be handled by crisis management teams, saying they likely should have never been the responsibility of the police in the first place.
“I think that will benefit the citizens of Tucson,” said Sgt. Don Jorgenson, president of TPOA and TPD employee.
The department will still respond to emergencies and life-threatening situations where officers are needed.
In a Facebook post, Black Lives Matter Tucson calls the move a “start” and that none of these calls should have been TPD’s job to begin with. Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega said using other resources for these types of calls can help bottom lines and the community.
“This falls in line with the mayor and city council vision with regard to the community safety pilot program,” Ortega said. “How we can deploy other resources, and the funding of that is both the function of other partners as well as our own.”
Magnus said the call demand “far exceeds the number of officers available to address it.” TPOA looked at call logs from the last year and found many calls where several hours had passed before officers were able to respond. The group is posting its findings on its Facebook page.
“Hundreds of calls that have been waiting eight hours or more, there’s 1,500 calls that have waited 12 hours or more. There’s even calls that have waited 23 or more hours,” Jorgenson said.
Magnus’ email outlines shifting more officers back to patrols, such as the majority of the mayoral security detail, some academy staff and the majority of Prisoner Transport Unit officers.
Retention rates among the force are a leading cause of the staffing shortage, according to TPOA.
Jorgenson said TPD is about 13 percent lower than market salaries for nearby departments and TPD is losing about 10 officers every month.
“Right now, we have 14 recruits that are in the academy,” Jorgenson said. “By the time they get out to service calls, we’ve lost 80 officers.”
However, the retention issues are not felt just in the police force. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero wrote in a statement the city will look at its entire workforce to find and address retention issues.
“Mayor and Council have given direction to the City Manager to conduct a citywide market compensation analysis to produce a plan that addresses the needs of our entire organization, including our Police Department, and is fair to all of our 3,500+ employees. The analysis is due back to Mayor and Council during our April 6th meeting,” according to the statement from the mayor’s office.
Ortega said these problems not only plague the city’s police department and 911 communications centers but also the IT department. He said analysis and report will look at why people are leaving the city’s workforce.
“I don’t believe salary is the only issue,” Ortega said. “It’s work environment. It’s all of the above if you will.”