9OYS Investigates: TPD memo discusses cuts, morale crisis
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – It's an internal memo that has a lot of people talking -- a Tucson Police Department document outlining police officers struggling with a morale problem so serious, more and more of them are seeking professional counseling.
On Tuesday TPD released to other news media a document 9 On Your Side obtained on Monday. The document paints a picture of a department reeling from budget cuts, bracing for more, and having a very hard time doing it.
Right now the department is down 145 officers and expecting to lose dozens more by next June, as officers try to combat crime while maintaining morale.
However, a recent memo from Chief Roberto Villaseñor to City Manager Mike Letcher gave a glimpse into the impact of officers being overworked, underpaid, and stretched to the max.
"There has been a palpable increase in the use of psychological services by all the members of the department, sworn and non-sworn," Villaseñor wrote. "Feedback from a cross-section of employees over the past several months through our internal audit process has increasingly pointed toward frustration of being asked to do more with less, and simply being unable to meet the expectations of the public due to decreased staffing."
Villaseñor told KGUN9 News that constant talk of layoffs and reorganization in the department, along with uncertainty and financial instability, has made it tough for his officers.
"It's been a very traumatic time for the officers and the civilians who work within the agency. Probably the most traumatic issue they're dealing with is what they didn't know and they still don't really know what's going to happen," he said.
The memo also laid out a plan for service reductions and reorganization that "would have the least impact on the community."
As of December 5th, 53 officers will be reassigned. Twenty officers from the Traffic Division and 26 officers currently on bikes will transition to patrol; seven officers tasked with recruiting and academy functions will augment field strength; and five detectives currently assigned to the Office of Internal Affairs will fill vacant detective positions.
KGUN9 News spoke with Rich Harper, a 34-year veteran and former captain of TPD, who said these shifts, which are designed to increase police responsiveness and officer presence on the streets, will still jeopardize public safety in other ways.
"Traffic deaths will go up. Traffic violations will go up. People will realize that there are fewer or no motor officers out there during certain times of the day," Harper said, adding that the mayor and city council of Tucson should make cuts to other departments and areas to minimize the impact to TPD.
Harper also said the shifting of the five detectives out of the Office of Internal Affairs will have a profound impact on not only the investigation of officer-involved shootings, but also affect the relationship between TPD and the community.
"It's good from the perspective of helping victims who need that follow-up case work," Harper said. "But it's bad from the perspective of forcing the community who believe that police have been involved in misconduct and need those cases investigated."
Aside from current problems, Chief Villaseñor also mentioned the problems posed by the current staffing situation. The memo stated that even when TPD starts hiring again, it will take a "minimum of five to six fully-funded years" to return to staffing levels of November 2008.
Currently, TPD has lost 62 officers due to attrition since the beginning of the calendar year, which is one more officer than all of last year, and six more officers than 2008 – with the possibility of the number increasing by the end of the year.
On Monday night outspoken city councilman Steve Kozachik expressed concern that the police department is already overworked -- even without additional cuts. "The Chief also told me they had a bank robbery call last week. There was nobody there to respond to it," Kozachik said. "He was hearing it and was trying to call people in from other sectors. It's a bank robbery, not jaywalking. So, yeah, they are woefully understaffed. And uncertainty about their jobs, the stress of their jobs, it's all playing together. And so, yeah, they're in psychologists' offices. It's serious stuff."
Kozachik said what city council needs to do is to make some decisions -- now, not later. "We must tell both police and fire: here's the level of cut we're going to make. Until they know that, they're floating on an island."
A copy of the internal memo that 9 On Your Side obtained on Monday can be found in the "also on KGUN9.com" box on the lower left side of this page.