TUCSON, Ariz. — A crisis with no end in sight -- that’s how the Pima County Sheriff’s largest union is now describing the ongoing staffing shortage. Overtime costs are soaring, costing taxpayers millions more. The department is losing more staff than ever, and the sheriff can’t hire replacements fast enough.
So how did it sink to such an alarming level so fast and how does it impact your safety in Pima County? Our months-long investigation into how Sheriff Mark Napier is managing his department and taxpayer dollars -- and some of the statements he’s made contradict what we found.
RESPONSE TIMES INCREASE BY MINUTES
Pima County deputies cover a lot of ground -- more than 9,000 square miles. The Rincon district alone is the size of Rhode Island. The union says the severe staffing shortage is taking an extra toll on patrols. At times, one deputy covers the entire Rincon district.
“When you have one deputy working a district and you can’t find other deputies because they’re short and you have to tell the supervisors to watch that district in case something happens, that places that deputy in jeopardy. It places the community in jeopardy from having an adequate response when they deserve it,” said Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey, who is speaking on behalf of the union.
He patrols a different district.
“I personally work the Green Valley district and we’ve had numerous issues for more than six months. We’ve been asking for more bodies,” said Kubitskey. He said that sometimes no one is assigned to the Catalina district. The scenarios are not new to the patrol divisions, but insiders say recent troubles in staffing and scheduling are making matters worse and the community is not getting the coverage it needs.
Like the time it takes for deputies to arrive at the “highest priority calls”, such as murder and assault, when seconds matter.
Since 2016, the average response times increased by minutes – from 5 to 7 minutes in the Rincon District and 5 to 8 minutes in the Green Valley District. In the Catalina District, it’s nearly 10 minutes.
PCSD Response Times For Priority 1 Calls, By District
In the FY 2018/19 budget, the PCSD reported to Pima County the overall average response time Countywide dropped from 5 to 4 minutes. The union says the Ajo District has the smallest population in a more concentrated area, which explains the shorter response times.
The countywide overall average response time increases to 7:20 minutes when Ajo is dropped from the equation. PCSD told KGUN9 the total average response time calculations are not weighted.
Kubitskey says deputies in the field have complained to the union that they have no help -- no backup -- and they blame Sheriff Mark Napier for “creating the staffing crisis."
UNION SAYS SHERIFF CREATED THE STAFFING CRISIS
Attorney Steve Portell represents the union. He said the consequences can be serious – sometimes fatal.
“From the perspective of the deputies, we’ve never seen staffing this low. It’s starting to become a serious problem for officer safety and the public’s safety,” said Portell.
The total staffing of Commissioned Deputies, Corrections, and Civilians is at its lowest level since at least 2008, which is steadily declining from 1,511 to 1,380 --- down 131.
Sheriff Mark Napier
It’s true that field staffing, those handling and investigating crimes, is now at its lowest since at least 2014. KGUN requested records from 2014 to 2019.
The number of deputies hired this year has dropped below 397. The department is down 35 deputies.
Reporting months: Jan. 2014-2016 | April 2017-2019
But not all the deputies are “available”. The deputies in training, injured, or on leave push the count down even further to 363.
The number of all sworn deputies, including administration, has also steadily declined. The Feb 2019 PCSD Department Employee Headcount shows the number of deputies stayed above 500 until June 2016.
The number of FTEs (Full Time Equivalents) has also steadily dropped since 2007.
KGUN9 investigative reporter Valerie Cavazos has reached out repeatedly to the sheriff requesting a sit-down interview on the staffing shortage and he’s declined each time.
Napier told Cavazos that it “wouldn’t be in (his) best interest.” He’s only responded to the staffing shortage in emails and texts.
SHERIFF SAYS IT’S NOT A CRISIS
But Sheriff Napier has a different perspective. He doesn’t see it as a crisis.
He said during a public meeting just weeks ago, “Our current staffing level is 92 percent of our sworn members.”
In emails to KGUN9 and his deputies, Napier writes: “Field staffing is lower than ideal levels. We do not believe they have reached a critical level...” and “We are, in fact, increasingly busy and more short of staff than we would like. This is not ideal at all, but also not a crisis.”
Portell said, “To claim that everything is okey dokey, is contrary to what the deputies are seeing everyday.”
To get a more accurate picture of who’s in the field handling and solving crimes, the union says numbers need to be broken down by divisions -- starting with patrol.
Kubitskey said, “When you think about how a department operates and how it protects the community, the bottom line for any agency is its patrol division.”
It’s considered the backbone of policing. Patrol deputies are the most visible to the community and command the largest share of departmental resources. The ICMA Center for Public Safety Management states patrols must have all the right resources so they can quickly respond to the public’s safety needs.
Patrols are considered the backbone of policing. The staffing level in that division is much lower than the overall 92% -- it’s 85 %.
There are now 202 deputies hired to patrol -- trending down from 233 in 2015.
PCSD Staffing Document | April 2019
Reporting Months: Jan. 2014-2016 | April 2017-2019
“It’s going to cost us in the long run,” said Portell.
Kubitskey told KGUN9 the union gets nervous when the patrol count shrinks and the staffing level drops below 90 percent. That’s because it’s normal for daily manpower to drop even further when “unavailable” deputies are factored in. They’re mainly in patrol. PCSD records show, since 2016, a steady average of 15 deputies are not patrolling Pima County on any given day – reducing the current patrol manpower from 204 to 189.
The drain of patrol deputies is also impacting pro-active policing -- meaning looking for signs of trouble and connecting with the community. It’s been one of Napier’s goals since he took office and still is.
Napier said during a public meeting, “Getting them more proactive – making sure our staffing allows us to do traditional community policing type activities.”
But the union says most patrol deputies simply don’t have the time.
Pro-active policing is mainly measured by the number of On-Site calls, which are made by deputies, not the public. The data reveals a steady drop from 12,814 calls in FY 15/16 to 10,332 in FY 17/18.
DEPUTIES PULLED FROM DAILY DUTIES
But there’s a new factor driving down the available deputies in the field even further – that’s not included in the data.
It involves judicial security in Superior Court. It’s normally the job of corrections officers, but the Pima County jail is severely understaffed.
"I was bleeding bodies at a rate that was unsustainable,” said Napier during a public meeting.
Right now, the jail is down 51 corrections officers. Insiders say that’s unprecedented.
422 correction officers are authorized, and the number is now 371. KGUN9 reported back in October that the department reached 4,200 overtime hours per pay period.
So Napier is pulling patrol deputies and detectives to cover the courts – currently 12 to 15 of them – each day, according to the union and a senior commander’s statement during a public meeting.
The union says the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) can’t afford to lose any more people to cover the courtrooms.
It’s now at its lowest staffing level in years – 77%. The staff level dropped from 117 in Feb. 2017 to 98 in 2019.
The shift of deputies to judicial duty contradicts Napier’s statement emailed to KGUN9 on April 2nd that the staff shortage has “not .. reached a critical level that would necessitate redeployment of existing resources such as investigative personnel.”
Attorney Steve Portell said, “What he’s doing is playing a shell game with people right now where he moves people out of CID – detective area – in the court house to provide court house security. Their caseloads stop because they’re working in the court house. Those court house security people go to work in the jail. So yes, it has reached a critical staffing level – at minimum.”
In an internal April 14th email to staff, Napier stated that if the department reaches a critical point … “this might involve the redeployment (of) investigative staff and/or specialized unit personnel back to the districts.” He also stated he would consider other options.
OVERTIME HOURS AND COSTS SOARING
The drain of manpower has sent overtime costs soaring -- projected to be $3.7 million and climbing. That’s double what’s budgeted, which is $1.8 million. In other words, it’s costing taxpayers a lot more money.
Sheriff Department Financial records show OT costs steadily trending up from $1.9 million in FY 2015/16 – then $2 million in FY 2016/17 and $2.56 million in FY 2017/18.
But Pima County documents reveal something else. The last fiscal year’s amount doesn’t match.
In the FY 2019/20 Recommended Budget, Pima County shows a major spike in FY 2017/18 – $3.2 million rather than $2.5 million. The union believes it’s likely the higher amount -- $3.2 million.
PCSD overtime costs on the rise
In the FY 2019/20 Recommended Budget, the Pima County Administrator wrote that “corrections officer positions continue to experience a high turnover rate. The department, along with Human Resources and the Budget Division are currently performing various analysis in order to make recommendations to alleviate the ongoing situation. The recommended budget for overtime is $2.1 million.”
Kubitskey said, “They’re working extremely hard. There’s more responsibility put on deputies now than there was 2 years ago.”
The union and insiders all agree the severe staffing shortage is pushing the department to its limits with no end in sight and they all point to a decision the sheriff made during his first month in office.
UNION SAYS STAFF LEVEL SHRINKS TO A CRITICALLY LOW POINT
Mark Napier runs the seventh-largest sheriff’s department in the nation. The population is now at a million and growing.
But the staffing level is shrinking, the union said, to a critically low point.
The largest union says the severe staffing shortage is pushing deputies and corrections officers to their limits with no end in sight.
Attorney Steve Portell represents the union. “The attrition rate in the department is unsustainable. The staffing levels are critical and that is all Sheriff Napier’s fault.”
The PCSD total workforce is now at its lowest level since at least 2007. Full time equivalents (FTEs) have steadily declined since 2012 with another reduction from 1,511 in 2018/19 to a recommended 1,489 in 2019/20 though the County Administrator’s recommended budget, he wrote, 2019/20 FTEs are unchanged from the fiscal year 2018/19.”
And the union points to a critical decision the sheriff made during his first month in office when he began slashing the budget.
The County Administrator had sounded the alarm: the department was operating in the red – $5.4 million dollars, according to two County Administrator Memos in Dec. 2016.
The department was exceeding its budget spending by more than $4.5 million and experiencing a shortfall of revenues of more than $1.1 million.
In December 2016, the County Administrator warned sheriff-elect Napier, the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Chris Nanos the department’s budget had “a potential adverse impact on the County budget of nearly 6 million dollars.” He added, “Sheriff Nanos and his staff had made a number of recommendations associated with reducing this adverse budget position.”
A financial source tells KGUN9 that it’s common for public entities to run in the red in the middle of a fiscal year and work to erase them the second half. Insiders say that scenario was common practice under the two previous PCSD regimes. Sheriff’s department financial records show FY 2015/16 ended in the black -- with a $47,602 surplus.
NAPIER IMMEDIATELY SLASHES PCSD BUDGET IN 2017
Napier took immediate action during his first month in office.
He explained to a Democrat Party meeting in April 2019, “We cut the deficit 2.5 million from a projected 6 or 7 million in six months, which I was very proud of.>
In the first 30 days, Napier slashed on-call and overtime costs, reduced executive staffing,
and, this is the critical decision cited by the union, he cancelled deputy and corrections officer academies.
Feb. 2017 Media Release: Action and Savings
Attrition | 1 Deputy and 1 CO academy – $800,000
Executive Staffing -- $398,960
On-Call/Overtime -- $1,246,000
Equipment/Vehicles -- $118,550
Miscellaneous -- $42,350
Total Savings -- $2,596,860
The union said the decision to cancel academies was a big mistake, because the department historically loses 1 deputy (26 a year) and 4 to 6 corrections officers (104-156 per year) per 2-week pay period and the academies must constantly run to replenish the ranks.
Sgt. Kubitskey represents the union, “So if you stop academies and stop putting people through, that will have a negative affect that will take years to fix.
In an email to us, Napier wrote, "Lower field staffing is not due to our slowing or neglecting hiring.” An April 14th email to staff reads, “This is not due to our slowing hiring or failing to hire.”
The union says that’s not true. Kubitskey says cancelling 1 deputy academy resulted in the automatic shortage of at least 26 deputies by the end of Napier’s first year.
Insiders say Napier cancelled at least two CO academies, which put him significantly behind in hiring.
The jail is currently down 69 Corrections Officers (COs) and losing nearly 5 (4.8 COs) per pay period. (130 a year). The union said that’s unprecedented.
And the attrition troubles continue for deputies.
The union says the department is now losing 2 deputies (52 a year) per pay period.
Portell said, “The buck stops with the sheriff – literally – the budget stops with the sheriff. He’s made choices that’s caused his department to suffer runaway attrition.”
With little chance of bouncing back any time soon, said the union. Napier admits the department is struggling to attract new hires.
Napier said during a public meeting in April, “We’re actively recruiting. It’s just that we’re simply having a hard time finding qualified people to become members of our department.”
In part, he said, because of a robust job market. In an April 2019 email to KGUN9, Napier said, “Many larger law enforcement agencies across the county are facing similar challenges with respect to recruitment.”
The union and insiders say the sheriff and senior command knew about the recruiting challenges, yet Napier severed the personnel pipeline when he stopped the CO and deputy academies.
The number of applicants in the deputy academy are at an all-time low – 420 -- dropping in half since 2013.
Kubitskey says the hiring process for a deputy sheriff is about 7 to 9 months and they spend the first 6 months of their probationary period in training.
Kubitskey said, “We have an academy class going on right now. By the time that academy class graduates with the number of people we have we will have lost the equivalent of those deputies through natural attrition per pay period so we’re breaking even.
In other words, one step forward – one step back.
Portell said, You’re not going to solve this problem, Sheriff Napier, by hiring your way out of it now that you’ve created the crisis.”
But Napier has a different perspective on his budgetary decisions.
NAPIER EXPLAINS BUDGET CUTS AND SAVINGS
Fiscally Responsible. That’s the mantra Napier has been chanting since stepping into the Pima County sheriff’s office.
Once the sheriff erased the 2017 deficit his first year in office, he finished (FY) 2018 in the black – $5.5 million dollars, which is nearly 4 percent under-budget.
The savings, he said, were mainly in personnel costs – confirmed in a 2017/18 memo written by County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry. He stated, “The largest contributing factor to ($5.3 million) savings is ($5 million) in Salaries and Wages.”
Napier explained his actions during a public meeting in April, “So we took that 5 and a half million dollars which I gave back to Mr. Huckleberry as part of the General Fund and put 4.8 million dollars of that back toward compensation increases for deputies and corrections officers which seemed to be a good plan to me.”
Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey represent the union.
Cavazos: What has the sheriff said to you as the reasoning behind giving up all this money?
Kubitskey: To be fiscally responsible.
Cavazos: What is fiscally responsible?
Kubitskey: Coming in the black. >
Napier explained it this way in an email to staff, “We are experiencing budgetary savings due to having unfilled positions.”
Attorney Steve Portell said, “For the sake of your viewers sanity, let’s make it simple. Because everybody is leaving our department for other agencies, we’re not having to pay them.?
Portell represents the union, “When somebody claims there’s a personnel savings when everybody is starting to leave your department because you’re handling the department poorly, you’re not saving money. I hate to break it to the sheriff. I hate to break it to the public, you’re not saving a dime.”
NAPIER’S BUDGET SAVINGS CONTINUE
The sheriff didn’t stop at $5 million in savings.
Napier informed staff in an April 14th memo that the department is currently trending at about $4 million in the black.
The union says Napier has flipflopped on what to do with it. Back to back emails in April reveal the sheriff first directed staff to find “creative ways to run the budget down to zero”, and then recanted the directive stating he’s “working with the County Administrator to leverage the savings back to compensation increases again this year.”
So over two years in office, Napier has saved nearly 10 million dollars.
Napier said, “That’s really unheard of in public government. We did that by making real smart decisions about executive staff -- hiring decisions.”
Unheard of, the union argues, because it’s not smart. They said It’s too much – too fast – and on the backs of the deputies.
UNION SAYS TOO MUCH – TOO FAST
The union said it’s contributed to the eroding morale and high turnover within the department. The union recently checked the figures and said the department is now losing 2 deputies (52 a year) and 5 (4.8 COs) per pay period. (130 a year).
Portell said, “When somebody hands back jobs or money to the General Fund when they’re leaving out 8 to 12 year veterans in our department. What they’re banking on is the younger people they’re hiring. There’s actually memos that Mr. Huckleberry has authored that talk about it’s less expensive to hire brand new people and bring them in the department.”
SHERIFF AND COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR’S NEW COMPENSATION PLAN
In one of the memos, dated January 26, 2018, the County Administrator writes, “In the future, we will need to be able to attract new employees to become deputy sheriff’s and corrections officers” to keep pension costs down.
In other words, Portell said, “We don’t have to contribute as much to their retirements under new calculations passed by the legislature in 2012. So this leaving out of people in the middle who provide the backbone of our department is not a mistake.”
Huckleberry wrote in January 2018 that he and Napier “have had several discussions both orally and in writing regarding his proposals. They are in line with my view of compensation which is primarily merit based and based on performance and qualification, not longevity.”
A year later, Huckleberry wrote in the 2019/20 recommended budget that “the Board of Supervisors approved adjustments to salary ranges and increased compensation for deputies and corrections officers. These increases will be merit based.”
The union has fought Napier’s compensation plan and merit-based increases for more than a year.
The County Administrator stressed in the 2018 email that the millions in savings must continue each year under the new compensation plan.
In 2019 emails to staff, Napier stated that his primary focus has been “raising entry level pay for deputies and corrections officers” to make the department ‘more competitive and increase recruitment.”
Huckleberry wrote in a January 2018 memo that new employees will have to bear a disproportionately high costs of their future pension. This means our starting salaries will have to be adjusted upward.”
ALL ACCORDING TO PLAN
The documents show Napier’s budget decisions have been all according to plan.
Huckleberry stated that “any compensation plan must be funded through the annual budget process and can only be approved if there are available funds or the Board decides to increase the primary property tax rate.”
In the April 14th email to staff, Napier wrote that he will not apologize for working with the County Administrator on the compensation plan. He stated, “Clearly, this will be an ongoing issue. I doubt we will ever fully resolve our correct desire for higher compensation for all PCSD personnel.”
Huckleberry wrote in 2018 that the new compensation plan will “increasingly cost higher amounts in future years so that by FY 2022/23 total salary and benefits could cost as much as $9.1 million more annually ..”
Remember, Napier has so far saved 10 million dollars over two years.
NAPIER NOW SEEKS MORE TERMS IN OFFICE
Now the sheriff says he needs more time in office. Napier said during an April public meeting, “I’d like to do another term in as your sheriff because there’s some things I have not accomplished yet that I want to as far as cultural change and some other things in the department.”
Those other things could include even higher starting pay for deputies.
Napier wrote in the April 14th memo to staff that he’s continuing to work with Huckleberry. He stated, “What I’m pretty sure will happen is another significant bump for entry level pay for deputies. We have to try this as a way to enhance recruitment. I am pressing for a bump for deputies who have not yet dropped out and to extend the top of the range. Not promising. However, our current posture with the budget makes these discussions easier.”
A few weeks later, the sheriff emailed to staff that he’s decided to seek two more terms.
UNION HAS LOST CONFIDENCE IN NAPIER
But the union says it’s lost confidence in not only Napier’s ability to lead, but his handling of the budget that’s led to loss of services that’s putting Pima County safety at risk.
Portell said, “He came into office promising to be a reformer, promising to bring transparency to this department, promising to make the public trust the numbers – the budget numbers coming out of his department he’s kept none of his promises.”
The union said while experienced deputies have fought for even the slightest bumps in pay and have been leaving in droves.
“He said he would take care of the people who are experienced in the middle who had all that important knowledge and information to help run the department. He’s driving those people away,” said Portell.
SHERIFF BREAKS PROMISE TO KEEP ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS DOWN
The sheriff has instead , the union said, chosen to take care of his top command.
Remember what the sheriff recently said about what contributed to the millions in savings?
“We did that by making real smart decisions about executives staff,” said Napier during an April public meeting.
Napier had vowed to keep administrative costs down.
He said during an April public meeting, “Our current administrative staff is much thinner than when I took office in January of 2017. We’ve not increased our administrative staff. In fact, for a long time – almost two years – we operated our department with myself and two chiefs in order to save money. We are now back to a more sustainable level.”
The union says part of that statement is simply not true that he’s not increased administrative staff.
KGUN9 first asked Napier to define the administrative staff he mentioned in his public statement and then requested the salary amounts.
A PCSD document reveals that Napier did reduce staff from 14 to 11 in his first year -- dropping administrative costs from $1.6 million to $1.2 million.
Dec 2016 | 14 positions - $1,682,352.88
Feb. 2018 | 11 positions -- $1,283,604.40
Mar. 2019 | 16 positions -- $2,042,399
But both administrative staff and costs are back up – now higher than when he took office. There are 16 commanders at a cost of more than 2 million dollars.
And some in his top command received substantial salary boosts ranging 15 to 21 percent at around the start of 2019.
That budget decision, the union said, is a hard pill to swallow.
Portell said, “If your focus is to have a responsible highly qualified workforce in the PCSD then you have to budget appropriately and this is not handling the budget appropriately. He’s driving people away.”
Creating a crisis, the union said, with no end in sight.
KGUN 9 Investigative Reporter Valerie Cavazos has repeatedly reached out – repeatedly to the sheriff requesting a sit-down interview on the staffing shortage and he’s declined each time. Napier told Cavazos that it “wouldn’t be in (his) best interest.” He’s only responded to the staffing shortage in emails and texts.
KGUN9 will continue to investigate and follow any developments.
A note from Investigative Reporter Valerie Cavazos:
I've spent months compiling interviews, documents, and data to get the full picture of the staffing shortage and its impact on public safety. I repeatedly tried to interview the sheriff on-camera, but he declined each time -- including the last time when I spoke to him face-to-face and he told me it's not in his best interest to do an interview. The full investigative report is comprised of conversations with financial experts, interviews with deputies, PCSDA attorney, sheriff’s comments during public meetings, data and documents from Napier, PCSD and Pima County emails, texts, and public records requests.