TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tucson voters elect public leaders into office so they can act on the issues the community wants fixed. They do not, however, have that kind of say when it comes to the city's top police officer, as is the case for departments across the country.
In this setup, a mayor and council decide who leads and supervises an agency comprised of hundreds of officers. Right before the new year, city government appointed Chad Kasmar to lead the Tucson Police Department.
Kasmar is not a new face to either the department or the community. In his first conversation as chief with Nine on Your Side, he acknowledged the challenge of hiring more officers while also coming off of a 2021 that saw record violent crime.
When KGUN 9 sat down with Tucson Mayor Regina Romero for a long, in-depth conversation, her pick to lead TPD had spent almost a month as the department's leader.
When we asked Romero why both she and city council thought Kasmar was the right person for the job, she said he was fully on board with the Community Safety, Health and Wellness (CSHW) program she has introduced and supported while in office.
Nine on Your Side wanted to compare how closely Kasmar aligns with Romero's approach on community safety.
Starting with Romero, when we asked her about her working relationship with Kasmar, she said she had been talking to him for the last year and a half on the CSHW program.
"We could not be more in tuned with each other in terms of how we deal with crime," Romero said.
Leading up to Kasmar's appointment in Dec. 2021, Romero said his most recent leadership role as interim director of the 911 Communications system, will help her and city council pinpoint where in Tucson callers need police and firefighters' help.
"There, (Kasmar) got the unique opportunity to see the needs of what the calls that we are receiving in the needs of the community," she said.
In his full interview with Nine on Your Side, Kasmar said he thinks TPD officers have had to deal with increasing expectations to respond.
He said in many cases, officers are interacting with 911 callers who ultimately need mental health resources beyond a law enforcement agent's skill set.
"It goes back to (this): If I expect a police officer to be good at 500 things, we're all going to be really disappointed," Kasmar said.
In that respect, Romero said she agrees with Kasmar. According to Romero, in order to support those gaps where officers may not have the exact training, another city appointee and department can coordinate the vision for the CSHW program.
Starting in mid January, that responsibility now falls on Sarah Launius, the program's new director.
"Chief Kasmar will tell you the same as I'm telling you: It cannot be just the Tucson police department finding solutions for the ailments of our society," she said.
Both Romero and Kasmar said they see investment in data trends as a tool to better focus Tucson police's staffing resources.
Nine on Your Side has reported on the work a team of TPD data analysts has done to find crime 'hot spots' and recognize patterns so that officers can more readily respond and engage with neighborhoods and families.
Kasmar said that same data collection is also guiding 911 dispatchers in making the decision to send an officer, firefighter or licensed mental health worker to help a caller.
"(It) may be a little bit out outside of the confines of what we traditionally expect police to do," Kasmar said, "but it's us using our experience that we've had for decades and going, 'How can we be more proactive within our community as one stakeholder in a larger ecosystem to have a positive impact?'"
With that goal in mind, it is also difficult to ignore, as Kasmar mentioned, that Tucson police are down about 120 total job positions. While TPD has cadets in training, agencies throughout the region are competing for that talent to help solve their own shortages.
Coming up this week, Nine on Your Side will look at the city's approach in recruiting more professionals into public safety, as well as the money being invested into community safety, health and wellness.
José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to in-depth investigations on COVID-19 relief fraud, toxic chemical spills impacting rural communities, and community programs positively impacting immigrant families and their children. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.