TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It’s already a record year for homicides in Tucson with one month left in the year, but police are also facing other challenges.
TPD officers met with concerned neighbors at Amphi High School on Tuesday night amid worries that crime in the surrounding neighborhoods is spiraling out of control.
The Fort Lowell/Oracle corridor, which is in the city’s Third Ward, is a primary focus for police.
Captain Christopher Dennison told neighbors he is aware of several issues in the area, including homelessness, trash, prostitution and drug trafficking—especially meth and dangerous blue pills known as “Mexican Oxy.”
Dennison says his first step is to “dose” small geographic “hotspot” areas with officers, whose presence alone can temporarily bring down crime.
“Several hundred times a week we have officers moving through these areas,” he said. “Not a sustainable plan by any means.”
For a more long-term approach, Dennison says he has highly trained Community Response Team (CRT) members in the area proactively addressing crime trends.
“I also have them in that area every night when we’re not hunting a homicide suspect or a violent suspect, they are in that area,” Dennison said. “And they are doing undercover drug operations.”
The issue is that CRT teams are often busy tracking down violent suspects around the city, often leaving issues like drug trafficking unchecked.
TPD staffing is very low, with Dennison saying the department has roughly 750 floating officers, about half of the ideal amount.
“We are so tight on bodies, that I am putting personnel in the most critical spots,” he said.
Dennison says there is an aggressive recruitment plan, plus a push to hire more community service officers in the next year.
“They’re non-sworn. They take a lot of calls for service work for us: Lot of the accidents, the burglaries, a lot of those reports,” Dennison explained. “And they free up my cops to go out and do a lot of the proactive work.”
Neighbors say more of that proactive work is needed, with trash and homeless encampments building up in alleys. Some of those experiencing homelessness have turned belligerent or violent with drugs and alcohol cycling through the area.
“I have break-ins every night,” one apartment building owner said.
Other business owners say they don’t feel safe at night and cannot get police to respond to frequent burglaries or disturbances.
Ward 3 Chief of Staff Sarah Launius spoke at the meeting, discussing city teams that do homeless outreach with the goal of getting more off the street.
She says communication with the Ward office and city council members is crucial, and that identifying the problems can help determine who needs law enforcement response and who simply needs to be offered resources and housing.
Both TPD and the city staff are preaching patience in order for significant progress to be made, with TPD aiming to increase staffing and the Launius estimating that the city will need 3,000 additional permanent housing units over the next decade.
Another in-person meeting is tentatively scheduled for January.
Kevin Dahl, city council’s newest member who will officially represent Ward 3 beginning next week, attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear from his constituents.
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