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TPD releases audit from air support unit

Posted at 10:43 PM, Dec 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-31 00:43:25-05

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- The Tucson Police Department has released an audit regarding the air support unit.

Earlier this week Nine On Your Side reported that an internal memo was sent out to TPD from Chief Roberto Villasenor, stating the unit would be grounded until further notice.

This past summer TPD says there were complaints made from air unit crew members, which prompted the audit. It was done by the Airborne Law Enforcement Association in November. 

The ALEA conducted an audit of the unit's administration, flight operations, safety and risk management, aircrew training and maintenance. It found the unit had a 58% compliance rate to set standards, and was determined to be a high risk.

On Wednesday Assistant Chief Mark Timpf said that the unit always follows strict safety precautions, but its written policies were not always reflective of that. He says that the compliance rate sounds bad but that the risk is "largely on paper."

"When we get an audit document that comes back to us that indicates high risk, I think that in abundance of caution, the prudent move for us is to temporarily pause our operations until we get our policies reflecting what we're actually doing," Timpf said. 

Below are some areas in which the unit was non-compliant:

- While it is common practice for the unit to fly with two crew members in the fixed wing aircraft, there's no policy in place for that.  

- No take-off weather minimums have been established for fixed wing operations for day or night operations.

- Although there is a practice in place that requires periodic communication checks with air crews, there is no policy in place to ensure this practice is followed. 

There were also reports of a lack of communication between staff and a hostile work environment was described between the aircrews and mechanics. Timpf says there is an ongoing internal investigation, and he could not disclose the details.

TPD says the air support is crucial for the community, as it serves as the eyes in the sky for officers on the ground. It responds to about 3,500 calls a year, includes about 10 crew members, three helicopters and one fixed wing aircraft.

"They are critical in the respect that they get their first in many many calls for service," Timpf said. "They can do an assessment of what's occurring at the scene and relay that current info to our responding field units."

Officers have already been working on getting policies written, they say many of the issues have been resolved. TPD hopes to have the air unit up and flying within 2 to 3 weeks.