Downtown Tucson will have off-duty police working later

Rio Nuevo approves paying officers to patrol when bars close and events go late
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 7:22 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Feeling safe downtown has been key to getting more people to visit and help the survival of the downtown Tucson area. Rio Nuevo Downtown Redevelopment and Revitalization District has been paying off-duty Tucson Police officers to patrol the area. On Tuesday, the Rio Nuevo board approved expanding their hours. From merchants to bus riders, they say paying off-duty police officers makes a difference, and going later with the effort could help at another critical time.

If you go downtown on Congress Street, you might see a few Tucson Police officers at Ronstadt Transit Center. Rio Nuevo has paid for them to be there if they’re off-duty.

“I don’t like the need for it but I understand why we have them, 100 percent,” said Sun Tran rider Danny Hurtado as he stood at Ronstadt Transit Center.

From Hurtado to Paul Cisek, co-owner of Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market, they say Rio Nuevo’s effort has reduced crime, people sleeping in the open, and other issues, even if it remains a work in progress.

“I have seen a reduction in shoplifting. I’ve seen a reduction in incidents that are not normal, and I’ve seen a reduction in open drug use,” Cisek said.

Rio Nuevo was paying four off-duty, uniformed Tucson Police officers to patrol downtown’s core, ranging from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at a cost of about $500,000 a year. On Tuesday, they expanded those hours to address bars and late events and could go as late as 3 a.m., which increased the cost to about $630,000. Highwire Tucson general manager Justin Olson says expanding the hours makes sense.

“We have no line, at our bar at least, from 10 o’clock to 10:30 and then all of a sudden, 10:30, we have 200 people waiting in our line, so, definitely, a police presence from later on that night would help out quite a bit,” Olson explained.

As Tucson seeks to hire more officers, businesses consider Rio Nuevo’s effort a sign that downtown is taking its image seriously. But Hurtado sees one more benefit: trust.

“That’s one of the things that is lacking in a lot of places is trust in the community and in order to gain that trust, the police has to be around. You need to see the police, to be around the police, the police need to be around you, you need to see their names and they need to know your name and I think it helps a lot,” he said.

The board also approved two side-by-side ATVs at about $45,000 each.

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