Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Tucson Police will not send officers to non-urgent calls

Tuscon's Mayor Regina Romero’s security detail will shrink under a Police Department plan to address a staffing shortage by no longer sending officers to non-urgent calls, reported Arizona Daily Star.

Two full-time members of the team that protects the mayor will return to patrolling the streets when Romero is not at high risk of harm — one of nearly 20 “critical changes” Tucson’s police chief said are necessary to cope with the department’s chronic staffing shortage.

Calls TPD will no longer handle include reports of non-criminal homeless activity on public property, minor noise complaints, panhandling, requests for welfare checks and suicidal subjects who are not a threat to others.

Many of those calls will go instead to mobile crisis teams, which are staffed with specialists in mental health, substance abuse or homeless outreach and are funded by state and federal tax dollars.

TPD will continue to respond to calls of any type that involve violence, large, disruptive gatherings or an immediate threat to public safety, Police Chief Chris Magnus said.

The transfer of some police calls to support services is in line with public sentiment favoring a non-police response in non-violent situations, Magnus said. And it’s necessary to ensure enough patrol officers are available to respond to serious threats, he said.

TPD already isn’t responding to many lower-priority calls due to its officer shortage, Magnus said.

“The reality is some of these calls are holding all night. If you call us at 9 p.m. saying your neighbor’s stereo is too loud and we can’t get there until seven the next morning, why are we even going?” he asked rhetorically.

Some of the other call types to be phased out over time include:

  • Reports of contraband at schools, hospitals and courts (except firearms.)
  • Deaths at medical care facilities.
  • Requests for rides to places such as homeless shelters or addiction treatment facilities.
  • Reports of city bylaw violations.
  • Financial crimes.
  • Runaways.

Magnus released the new plan internally last week and has faced questions about whether he did so to pressure city leaders to approve a multi-million-dollar pay raise for his officers.

The chief rejects the suggestion he is trying to force the council’s hand. There’s no need for pressure tactics, he said, because city leaders already know what’s at stake if police officers continue to quit and go elsewhere at the rate they have been.

“I believe they are taking it seriously,” the chief said of his recent presentation to council, which cited a recent study that found TPD officers make an average 13.4% less than surrounding police agencies. It would cost about $10 million a year to make TPD pay rates competitive, he said.

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