May 18, 2018
The Tucson Police Department's staffing levels have dropped to an all-time low in recent years.
The officers' union says the manpower shortage is impacting patrols - the officers on the line who handle all the 911 calls.
More Tucsonans are coming forward with complaints - some having to wait for several hours or days before officers respond to calls not deemed "priority."
Now they want to know what's causing the serious delays.
Investigative reporter Valerie Cavazos dove into the issue to find out how it's affecting you, the taxpayers.
Two burglaries in about a months time at Tucson Baptist Church.
Pastor Brent Armstrong shows us where the thieves entered, and all the items he had to replace.
"They stole all of this," Armstrong said. "Except for the sound equipment. But they took the apple computers and the screens."
He says staff called 911 to report the crime. Waited. No officers came so staff called again.
"The second and third time they just said that we were in a queue," Armstrong said. "They were aware of us, but there were other calls."
An officer responded to the scene more than five hours after staff first called police.
A few weeks later, in the late night hours before Sunday service, another break-in.
"This is where the TVs were taken off the wall," said Armstrong. "Ripped off the wall."
This time the thief is caught red-handed on camera.
The church installed surveillance equipment after the first break-in.
Armstrong again called 911 a number of times.
In both cases, he says it took more than 5 hours for officers to show up.
Nowhere near the goal of 2 hours that TPD set to respond to non-threatening crimes that fall under "general," Priority 4, calls.
Armstrong said the question on everyone's minds: Where are the police officers?
Particularly those patrolling the streets.
Union leader Jobe Dickenson said the officers are out there, but they're spread too thin to effectively cover Tucson's growing population.
Dickenson said it's been a chronic issue in the department.
The Tucson Police Officers' Association sounded the alarm at the time the city hired Police Chief Chris Magnus.
In January 2016, TPOA came out and basically said there is a staffing crisis with our patrol officers. We were having difficulty with just fielding the high priority calls -- field the right number of officers to safely get that done.
Dickenson said the total squad roster count in 2016 was 392 officers.
The officers work full-time and are assigned only to respond to 911 calls.
The 55 sergeants on those squads respond only when needed.
Two years later, TPOA says the squad roster has dropped to 322 officers.
That's significantly lower than what TPOA has called a "crisis" in the past.
Dickenson said citizens like Pastor Armstrong continue to feel the strain.
Currently there are not enough bodies to take care of the quality of life issues that we are experiencing here in Tucson
Police Chief Chris Magnus has repeatedly acknowledged the staffing shortage, but he falls short of calling it a "crisis."
He disputes the union's patrol counts.
"I have very different numbers," Magnus said. "And I'll tell you how I got my numbers."
Magnus includes sworn and non-sworn officers who are not primarily assigned to take 9-1-1 calls.
Many of those officers must be pulled from other duties.
"They're available to back up officers under different circumstances and then of course we have officers who are on intermittent family medical leave," Magnus said. "They're left out, sometimes, of the calculation that others have but they may be working a couple days then off a couple of days."
In January 2016 Magnus put the patrol count at 438.
46 more than the police union.
"Our numbers show we have 442 officers who are deployed for patrol purposes," Magnus said. "That's only four less than what we had in January 2016."
Chief Magnus says there isn't conclusive analysis on recent response times but he says extreme delays in response time are rare.
The TPD staffing levels continue to be a concern for Chief Magnus and the union.
Both say the department is losing officers faster than they can replace them.
"Just across the board police times are too slow," said Armstrong. "The criminal knows that and they are able to escape and move on without fear of apprehension."