KOLD Investigates: Pima County probation in crisis

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 10:23 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 22, 2022 at 10:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - They are tasked with supervising people convicted of crimes.

Pima County Probation says they are dealing with a crisis.

It’s a dramatic shift from what KOLD was told back in June when leadership said there were no dire problems in probation.

Insiders shined a spotlight on the crisis months ago after we launched the Free to Kill investigation earlier this year.

They told us the department has been understaffed for years making it very hard to track violent felons, which puts the community at risk.

Some of those violent probationers are now charged with murder.

A Probation Officer said, “They know how dangerous it is. This is why they’re addressing it. They know that it has gotten out of control.”

And it’s just now that administration is calling it a crisis.

Insiders told KOLD that staff complained 6 months ago that some caseloads had reached an all time high -- exceeding 90 or 100.

That’s a violation of state law, which puts a cap on caseloads.

  • 65:1 ratio in Standard Probation.
  • 25:1 ratio in Intensive Probation.

The current counts from the The Pima County Probation Department show caseloads exceed the state limit.

4,877 probationers, 68 officers in Standard probation = 71:1

445 probationers, 14 officers in IPS = 32:1

Insiders told KOLD that for years administrators told overworked and underpaid probation officers to just “deal with it”.

Yet they all knew state statute requires the probation chief and superior court presiding judge to take action to bring the department into compliance when caseloads exceed the state limit for 90 days or longer.

KOLD has reported the department has been over-capacity an average of 10 caseloads per probation officer for not just months, but rather years.

“They fail to own up to their mistakes and they continue to create an intimidating work environment,” the probation officer said, “So that is why they are at where they are, where officers are leaving.”

Insiders place much of the blame on Chief David Sanders, who has denied serious problems in probation, until now.

KOLD obtained a memo he sent to staff last week.

Sanders wrote chief probation officers across the state met with the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees Arizona’s probation departments, about the severe staffing shortage.

It’s the same office KOLD contacted a few months ago about the high caseload counts in Pima County.

And now Sanders reports to staff that a crisis exists and “the time for action is now”.

Their solution is raise salaries across the state to help with retention and recruitment.

The AOC has submitted a request to the state legislature to boost the budget an additional $17 million dollars in 2024.

But insiders said that shouldn’t be the only remedy.

“The AOC needs to conduct a performance review on administration. They need to get in there and see what is happening. Are they looking at the turnover? the a probation officer said.

KOLD reached out to Chief Sanders and and superior court presiding judge, Jeffrey Bergin, for interviews.

Bergin is out of town until Friday.

Sanders denied the interview request, but sent a statement outlining strategies to bring Pima County into compliance, including aggressive recruiting and early termination of probation in some cases.

Here is Pima County Chief Probation Officer David Sanders’ Full Statement: