Pima County won’t charge people for simple drug possession due to COVID

Sheriff Nanos says plan in place if corrections officers are terminated for violating vaccine mandate
Pima County Attorney Laura Conover has informed all law enforcement agencies in southern Arizona not to charge low-level drug offenders and send them to jail.
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 1:37 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2021 at 8:20 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County Attorney Laura Conover has informed all law enforcement agencies in southern Arizona not to charge low-level drug offenders and send them to jail.

It’s a renewal of a policy first adopted by her predecessor when the pandemic began. It was later rescinded by Conover after she was elected in November.

Conover said the situation at the county jail has become so dire, she renewed it to protect the corrections officers and staff as well as the inmates who are housed there.

In large part, the policy was brought back to avoid increasing the jail population as the county is looking at losing more than 140 corrections officers over the vaccine mandate.

The corrections officers face termination if they are not in compliance with the mandate, which requires all employees who deal with vulnerable populations to be vaccinated or approved for a religious or medical exemption.

“I agree with where she’s coming from,” said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. “If you can remove people from that jail, this vulnerable population, I would hope you could save lives.”

Part of the issue is only 67% of the PCSD is vaccinated, the lowest of any county department.

Nanos said while he’s frustrated that more deputies and corrections officers are not vaccinated, he will defend their efforts.

“The librarians, wastewater, Park and Rec are a higher percentage but I will tell you, I don’t think there’s a department that has more people vaccinated than the sheriff’s department,” Nanos said. “Percentages yes, we’re not as high as we should be.”

According to Nanos, more than 140 corrections officers face termination for violating the county’s vaccine mandate but some may comply by the Dec. 31 deadline.

The county mandate says anyone who works with a vulnerable population must be vaccinated to maintain their employment.

Inmates are considered a vulnerable population.

Nanos said he knows exactly how many officers are needed to safely operate the jail and says “if we lost 158, we can still make things work.”

Still, there has been talk about contingency plans just in case such as pulling some deputies off the street.

“If I needed deputies in the jail, we would do that,” Nanos said. “That’s a very last resort effort.”

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