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Tucson Police response times at all-time low, mainly due to staffing

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:11 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:21 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - New information is out on how severe the staffing shortage is at the Tucson Police Department.

Average response times are at an all-time low as the TPD is short 122 officers, 105 of which are in patrol

The workload and the overtime are continuously draining and that’s been leading to even more attrition.

“The past two years has been rough,” said Assistant Chief Kevin Hall, who is in charge of the patrol unit.

He feels the intense strain on his crew. The department loses eight or nine officers a month.

“Every time we lose a person, a sworn officer, regardless of their rank, eventually it’s going to come from patrol,” Hall said.

And the depletion is largely why it could take longer for officers to show up to some true emergencies: the Level 1 calls.

For the first time, the average response time dropped to an all time low from 66% in 2016 to 48% last year.

“I’m not satisfied. I would like to see a full academy class for the next couple of years just to get us up to the position where my staff isn’t working so hard all the time,” Hall said.

But he explains that it’s not all that it seems, especially when it comes to life-threatening situations. Response times could take only a few minutes, rather than several.

“If it’s a serious injury collision, we go. If it’s a shooting, we go, if it’s a stabbing, we go, if it’s an assault, we go,” Hall said.

And there’s been more true emergencies to go to since 2018.

Priority 1 calls ramped up from nearly 1,900 to 2,500, a 35% jump. That includes 87 murders in 2021, a record-setting year.

And 87 deadly vehicle crashes.

It usually takes six to 10 cops to work a scene and they’re there for hours.

“And now you have a sergeant. who’s calling people who are at home, off duty, to try to get them to come in,” Hall said. “And that’s where you’re to see a lot of delays in those calls, because they’re tied up or they’re on other major incidents. And the volume of calls coming in will always outweigh the number of officers there are to take those calls.”

Hall explained another reason for not responding quickly. Officers are more mindful about going into some potentially dangerous situations after 911 calls are made.

He said faster isn’t always better because faster could lead to critical mistakes.

“Sometimes we need more information before we get there and the sergeants will slow down a little bit and wait for more information,” Hall said, “One of the things that always comes to mind is the Tamir Rice case, where the officers didn’t have all the information. They arrived quickly. They acted very quickly, and it was a very tragic event.”

As officers spend more time on true emergencies, Hall said, that can take them away from responding to lower-level calls when death is not imminent.

Priority 2, 3 and 4 calls are also at an all-time low.

Officers reached the response time goal of 10 minutes for Priority 2 calls, 43% of the time last year compared to 52% in 2016.

Officers reached Priority 3 goals 51% last year, a consistent drop from 71% in 2016. And they reached Priority 4 goals 47% of the time last year compared to 64% in 2016.

Hall explained sometimes there are simply not enough cops to go around to take care of everything that goes on in the city.

To help ease the staffing crisis, the department is relying more on Community Service Officers, who take more of those lower level calls.

There are now 44 CSOs, up from 17 in 2016. TPD chief Chad Kasmar said he hopes to triple that number.

Data shows CSO’s are even responding to more Priority 2 calls, from 647 in 2016 to more than 2,000 last year.

To help accelerate police response times, the city increased the police budget by $5 million and have given officers raises of up to 15%.

Funds have been thrown into an improved data analysis system that TPD believes can provide a better perspective of what’s really happening in the streets.

“We’re identifying the hottest spots essentially tracking when and where officers are deployed for those spots, making sure we’re putting cops where crime is happening with fewer resources we are being as effective as we can possible be,” said Aeric Koerner, who runs the unit.

But all of it, both said, will take a year or two at the least, but they feel they’re now looking uphill with the new leadership.

“I think it’s going to be easier,” Hall said.

Hall says they’re still struggling to fill officer and CSO academies so recruitment is a major focus for the department.

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