Arizona police departments short-staffed, trying to stand out in competitive crowd

Arizona police shortage
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 11:48 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A nationwide police shortage is being felt in Arizona. As officers walk off the job in Phoenix, Tucson and Marana are also impacted by the ‘Great Resignation’ that started before the pandemic.

“We are losing officers to retirement and for other purposes, we are also losing officers as they get promoted,” said Tucson police officer Roman Acosta. “I don’t think it’s any secret right now that we are short-staffed.”

“We want to be able to fulfill the needs of our community and provide the best service possible, and to do that, we are going to need more officers,” said Tucson police officer Melissa Ayun.

Officer Abel Samano says the Marana Police Department is working to fill eight positions.

“To put that into perspective, for our department, that’s a whole squad,” Samano said.

It comes at a time when Marana is seeing an increase in calls for service.

“It’s difficult,” said Samano. “It’s a different climate than when some of us started. It goes up and down, though. I’ve got about 15 years in the police world and there are times when we are getting a lot of good applicants, and there are times like right now where people don’t want to get into policing.”

Those who are responding to calls are strained.

“Our systems, our people are stressed,” said Tucson Vice Mayor Nikki Lee during the most recent City Council meeting. “They have been [stressed] before the pandemic, they are burnt out now.”

Recently in Phoenix, a police officer announced he was quitting over dispatch radio after being asked to do more overtime. The Phoenix Police Department is losing about 21 officers a month, which is impacting wait times.

Tucson Police have had to stop responding to certain calls due to staffing shortages.

Marana Police say their patrol officers also need some relief.

“You can only work a person so much,” Samano said.

So, recruiters are going to job fairs and high schools, posting on social media and looking for lateral hires. The City of Tucson also approved raises for officers, which took effect this summer.

“Which does make us more attractive,” said Ayun. “I also believe we are currently the highest paid agency in Southern Arizona.”

“I don’t know a single officer that got into it for the money,” said Acosta, “but being financially stable is certainly comforting at the end of the day.”

Last week, about 25 Tucson recruits graduated from the police academy.

Filling positions is a lengthy process, though. Acosta says it takes about a year from the moment an officer enters the academy to the moment they are answering calls on their own.

It’s why Tucson is re-evaluating its hiring practices.

“Rather than waiting, how can we overfill some positions?” asked City Manager Michael Ortega at the council meeting.

Law enforcement is evolving. Ayun says the goal is to mirror the community within the department.

“Our target is everyone,” said Ayun. “One of the beautiful things about Tucson is that we are so culturally diverse. Everyone has a valuable skillset; something to bring. I am also a huge advocate of women in law enforcement. This is really a fantastic career. I’m a single mom with three kids, and is it challenging? Absolutely. It is. But with that [said], it is also very rewarding and a lot of fun.”

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a police officer or just want to learn more, the Tucson Police Department is holding an open house on Wednesday, Dec. 8, at its Westside Substation located at 1310 Miracle Mile starting at 6 p.m.

The Tucson City Council plans to discuss how its vaccine mandate may be impacting staffing and public service at its next meeting on Nov. 23.

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