9OYS Crime Watch: How safe is Tucson?
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – How safe is your community? With concerns over border violence and crime on city streets, KGUN9 News takes a look at 8 Southern Arizona communities to find out just how safe they are. Our first stop, Tucson.
With looming budget cuts and a department that is already stretched to the max, Tucson Police Officers are finding that it's tougher to combat violent crime given their limited resources and manpower.
"When I say unprecedented times, that's not an understatement. I have never witnessed anything like this before," said Larry Lopez, President of the Tucson Police Officers Association.
TPD Chief Brett Klein told KGUN9 News, "Being down the number of positions that we are, these are unprecedented times."
Tucson Police are trying to stem the tide of violent crime while the department is drastically understaffed – as it's down 130 officers, with 60 more resignations or retirements expected by June of next year.
Meanwhile, the number of homicides continues to rise: there are more than 40 so far this year, outnumbering the killings for all of 2009.
"We've tried to attack the problem that we are seeing coming up since July with homicides, particularly aggravated assaults and robberies," Klein said, referring to the spike of violent crime over the summer.
Tucson Police say there is neither a clear connection among the different cases nor a definitive reason for the surge in the number of murders, but some common factors include drugs and gang activity.
The department launched the Violent Crime Reduction Initiative in September, strategically shifting about 35 officers a night to different geographical areas and tasks to fight violent crime.
So far, TPD said they've witnessed a significant improvement in preventing violence, as evidenced by: the 1,330 stops made by police, 334 adult arrests, 23 juvenile arrests and the issuing of 120 arrest warrants. Furthermore, TPD has seized 18 weapons and identified 27 undocumented gang members.
A comparison of violent crime statistics between 2009 and 2010 further shows that Tucson Police are making headway. As of the end of September, Tucson has seen 172 sexual assaults, compared with 181 this time last year; 1021 aggravated assaults, down from 1067; and 792 robberies, a big drop from 947.
Despite the success, Tucson Police admit the officers deployed for the task force must leave behind their duties in other areas of law enforcement.
"We've had to pull people from other units such as our nighttime motor enforcement, DUI enforcement, the bike officers and community response teams that are usually working on very specific issues," Klein told 9 On Your Side.
And with fewer resources, police cannot do as much community policing, which is another proactive method of preventing crime.
"Part of community policing is having some time to get to now the neighborhood and get to know the business folks, folks who live and work and play in our beats," Lopez said. "Unfortunately, we've been forced to get out of that. For the most part, we're a reactive police department."
Because of the challenges Tucson Police face, many community leaders believe it is even more critical for Tucson residents to pitch in to fight crime in their neighborhoods
"I remind our neighbors that we have to be the eyes and ears for our neighbors, for ourselves. We have to work in conjunction with the police. The police cannot do it on its own," said Armando Vargas, the President of the Northwest Neighborhood Association.
And Lopez said they need all the support they can get, so they can continue to be responsive to calls for help.
"The difficulty we're dealing with is lower-priority burglaries, thefts and things like that – motor vehicle accidents without injuries. We're increase in delay of response times," Lopez said.
Right now, the department is averaging the following response times for 911 calls: 2 to 3 minutes for homicides and fatal accidents; 8 to 10 minutes for fights and weapon-related incidents; 16 minutes for burglaries; and more than an hour for thefts and minor car accidents.
9 On Your Side asked Klein how concerned he is about the city possibly cutting more officer positions as a result of budget cuts. "It's very concerning to us in terms of any cuts that may happen with our staffing and we're having to rededicate resources. We're having to look at different strategies," Klein said.
And one of those strategies is simply being adaptive, as shifting crime trends and growing staff losses make "unprecedented" an everyday reality.