TUCSON, Ariz. -- (KGUN) — Local governments can set out to accomplish a goal just like a small business or non-profit. Part of their success, no matter the kind of organization, depends on where the team invests its energy and resources.
This month, KGUN 9 has shared parts of our conversations with Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and new Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar. Both said they see eye to eye when it comes to what they called a holistic approach to public safety.
KGUN 9 wanted to check on the kind of funds being allocated to support the Community Safety, Health and Wellness program (CSHW) as well as look at how the city and police are recruiting and paying professionals who are up to the task.
TPD leadership have felt the pressure to fill open jobs. It's a task Chief Kasmar said he understands is not a unique challenge at the moment for police departments across the country.
"How do we recruit them at a larger rate?" he said. "That's where it gets to be a little bit more challenging and more complicated. First, I think our officers have to be the best recruiters."
In that respect, Kasmar said more police academy cadets are going through the course. However, he said, he sees a future where TPD can still grow by bringing in a greater number of community service officers (CSO), non-sworn officers who respond to calls for assistance and car accidents without injuries.
"I've got 30 new hires in the academy as we speak, so I'm excited to report that. Before that, we were floating just above 50," Kasmar said. "I see a world in our future where maybe the department makeup looks like 900 sworn (officers) and 300 CSOs."
PREVIOUSLY: Tucson mayor: New TPD Chief '100 percent on board' with community safety strategy
Mayor Romero said she sees investing in more CSOs as a valuable component of the city's current strategy on public safety -- in part, she said, to relieve some of the pressure thrust onto police officers when, for example, they interact with people in a mental health crisis.
"We have about 68 community safety officers. We're including 30 more. We're paying them more to make sure that they serve as really to help the community, especially our officers and other issues that are not as urgent or emergent," Romero said.
Kasmar also said he sees more CSO openings as a way to recruit younger candidates who want to find a secure job and start a potential path toward another role within the department.
"We're going to have that career path for you. If you're just graduating from high school, and you're going to graduate this coming May and you're really not ready for a trade or to go to college, we've got a job for you, Kasmar said.
But what about keeping officers or workers with experience and skill-sets? Romero said she thinks that positive turn started with the fiscal year 2022 budget the city approved last summer, and specifically within that budget, the more than $33 million dollars meant to raise all city employees' salaries.
"We are making sure that they're getting paid market rate - that our 911 communications dispatchers and those that are receiving our calls are getting paid well," she said. Romero also pointed to the more than $5 million in that budget funding phase 2 of the CSHW program, which covers salaries for more CSOs, social workers and data analysts.
At the time we last checked the City of Tucson's dashboard for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding allocation, the website had not updated if any money had been spent already as an expenditure.
What is allocated for this fiscal year, for example:
- $3.6 million to fund "Community Health and Safety"
- $600,000 to fund the city's organizational mental health effort
- $100,000 to fund the city's youth employment program
Kasmar said, while the year plays out, he understands the community will keep a close eye on how the city and TPD will use funds and tax dollars to get the job done.
"I think rightfully the committee wants to know where their taxes are going and where we're investing money," he said.
"If we want the best outcomes and the best resources, that comes with training, it comes with technology and it comes with resource investment — not pulling away from something if we want better outcomes or different outcomes that we've traditionally had."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.