Cop-population ratio inches toward norm
A sweeping plan to hire hundreds of new police officers over the next 10 years should help Tucson improve its dismal crime rate, the police chief says.
For four of the past five years, Tucson led the nation’s biggest cities in property crime, according to FBI statistics. Until two years ago, the city led the nation in mail and identity theft. A 27 percent drop in traffic citations in recent years, attributed by police to a lack of patrol officers, coincided with an increase in traffic deaths.
Though the city added about 50 new police officers in the past five years, a review of police staffing for the past decade shows the department has lagged between 32 percent to 45 percent below the national average in the ratio of police to population. The result: People wait longer for police to arrive and criminals remain on the streets.
“Today we often have calls holding for hours, and that’s not acceptable for me,” said Tucson Police Chief Richard Miranda. “The remedy for that is putting more people on the street.”
More cops coming
In June the City Council approved the first stages of a plan that will bring 400 new police officers to Tucson, Miranda said.
Miranda plans to focus the resources where he sees the most need and can get the most impact: traffic, patrols and investigations.
This year the department will add 41 commissioned positions, including 24 officers, seven detectives, nine sergeants and one lieutenant. In fiscal 2008, which starts July 1, the city will get 30 new officers, five detectives and five sergeants. The department’s number of civilian support staff will rise from 383 this year to 409 in 2008.
The 400 new officers still would not bring Tucson up to the national average of 2.8 officers per 1,000 people, based on city population projections. The city budget passed in June will take the city from 1.9 officers per 1,000 people to 2.0 officers by 2008. Under the plan the city would have 2.3 officers per 1,000 by 2017.
Though those new officers are barely entering the pipeline to go through the police academy, the push to get more officers on the street has already begun. Miranda has taken commissioned officers out of communications, research, planning and other administrative jobs to maximize the number of officers on patrol.
“We’ve tried to move everybody who carries a badge and a gun into first service-level positions,” Miranda said.
Miranda earlier this year also ordered police headquarters, 270 S. Stone Ave., closed from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. until further notice.
Those moves have not come without a price. Though increased focus on hot spots and repeat offenders has helped reduce gang and property crime, officers can’t get to minor car accidents, theft or illegal parking cases as quickly, he said.
“My plan is to expand the field services bureau with new officers,” Miranda said. “That will be the first place I go to.”
He thinks it’s already working. Tucson fell from having the highest property crime rate in the nation in 2004 to 14th last year among 109 metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 people, according to the FBI. The violent crime ranking fell from 24th in the nation to 28th.
Those new rankings are partly because the department now reports some crimes only when paper reports are filed and not just when a telephone report is called in, but Miranda attributes 70 percent of the drop to better police work and more patrol officers.
Costs to rise
Although the administrative services budget, which covers such things as finance, personnel, communications and clerical support, will drop 10 percent from $24.9 million this year to $22.5 million in 2008, the combined budgets of the operations and investigative services bureaus, which include patrols, detectives and other work directly related to solving crime, will grow by 11 percent, from $100.8 million to $111.8 million, according to the budget. Overall, the department’s budget will grow from $143.8 million this year to $164.9 million next year.
The department will spend $67.7 million by 2011 on buildings needed for the expanding force. A $5 million substation will go in on East Speedway Boulevard; a building at Flowing Wells and Miracle Mile will be renovated to replace a smaller substation on West Prince Road; a $10.6 million evidence processing center will be built; and the main police station will be expanded to the tune of $45 million.
City Council member Carol West considers it a wise investment, though she fears new revenue sources will have to be found to pay for facilities to support the new officers, especially in her East Side ward, which includes the fastest-growing and largest of the city’s five patrol divisions.
A half-cent sales tax dedicated to police funding has been suggested, but that would leave the department at the mercy of the public’s spending whims. She would rather consider new impact fees with the money sent directly to the Police Department, she said.
City residents are willing to pay, according to a survey commissioned by the city in 2004. Eighty-four percent of respondents reported they would pay more for public safety to avoid reductions in service.
You can help
Adding police can’t be the only answer to the city’s crime woes, West said.
“We could have all of the police in the world, but if the people in those neighborhoods are not engaged then that’s not going to work,” West said.
A mobile society has resulted in people not knowing their neighbors, which makes them shy away from getting involved, she said.
“If you see a suspicious car or a suspicious person in your neighborhood, pick up the phone and call 911,” West said.
Such calls can prevent crime, catch criminals in the act and help police keep track of problem areas, Miranda agreed.
Adding officers and millions of dollars to the budget can’t solve the problem, Miranda said.
“The worst thing a citizen can say to themselves is, ‘Well, I’ll let the other guy do it.’ ”
Tucson in 2016
NO. OF OFFICERS: 1,428
CITY POPULATION: 633,951
OFFICERS PER 1,000 PEOPLE: 2.25*
* CURRENT NATIONAL AVERAGE COPS PER 1,000 PEOPLE: 2.8
MONDAY’S PART 1
A two-day series examining Tucson’s police force