TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Tucson Police Department said it’s at its lowest staffing levels in the past 30 years. The department’s staffing numbers and 911 operations were among the topics discussed at the Tucson City Council’s public safety budget town hall meeting Saturday morning
“We’re now down to a sworn staffing level in the upper 700s, and our people well, they can only be stretched so thin,” said Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus.
The department had a sworn staffing level of nearly 890 at the start of last year, according to a January 2020 TPD report. The decline in staffing comes as the homicide rate increases. Chief Magnus said Tucson’s homicide rate is up 66% from 2019 through 2020.
“Preventing homicides, once again,, highlights the need to have enough department members and community partners to do the things we already know that work,” Chief Magnus said.
TPD was allocated $166 million in the city’s budget for Fiscal Year 2021, roughly $2 million more from the previous year. As discussion surrounds the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, some Tucsonans want the department to be prioritized to ensure it has adequate staffing.
“You need safety, you need the security. If someone breaks in my house, I feel like if I call the police, how long is it going to take them to get there? So, it kind of makes you feel not safe,” said Patricia Mercogliano, a mother of two who lives in Tucson.
She said she’s repeatedly seen cars failing to stop when her son and other children are getting dropped off by the school bus.
“There would be multiple cars driving past and even on Friday a city bus,” she said.
After calling the city’s non-emergency phone line, she was told to call a police station near her home and then spoke with an officer.
“She validated my concerns, but she said, to be honest we don’t have enough police officers to come monitor this area,” Mercogliano said.
Earlier this month Chief Magnus said the department was lowering demand-relief for certain calls and focusing officers to the most critical situations due to its staffing shortage.
He said calls will be phased out over time. In the near-term, the department will stop responding to non-criminal homeless calls on public property, loud noise complaints and non-criminal transports. TPD plans to phase out all code enforcement, landlord-tenant disputes and child custody issues in the long term. Crisis Mobile Teams will handle mental health welfare checks and suicidal individuals.
More than 130 people attended Saturday’s virtual town hall and voted on what they want the mayor and council to prioritize within the budget. More affordable housing, expanding mental health services and increasing the number of social workers ranked high among people in the community.