Listen to the radio story:
Tucson Police Department's new chief outlined $7 million in budget cuts, and planned a department staff reorganization that will reduce the number of officers on the streets.
That will not have an immediate public safety impact, Chief Chris Magnus said. The police union agrees, at least for the short term, said Roland Gutierrez, the president of the Tucson Police Officer's Association.
But if the department has a hard time hiring after it eliminates specialty positions that attract recruits, Gutierrez said, it could affect safety years from now.
Magnus began as Tucson's police chief in January, and by early March he'd identified $14.5 million in department budget cuts. His plan is to put $7.5 million of the savings back into the department in new equipment, vehicles and technology, for a total savings of $7 million.
The Police Department is in the same position as every other agency of Tucson city government: budget cuts are mandatory.
The city must close a $25 million budget gap by July, and needs to make long term plans to bring in enough money to pay for the services residents have come to expect, the city manager has said.
The cuts to police staff will largely come from attrition, Magnus said. The department is authorized to have 992 officers, but has about 890 on payroll as of this week, according to TPD. By July of 2017, Magnus wants the number to go down to 830 after attrition and moving some administrative staff back into field positions.
"We haven’t been close to that (992 positions) for a very long time, so we’re really just being more honest in what we’re saying we can successfully deploy,” Magnus said.
He said he is confident the public will not see a negative change.
“I don’t think that this is going to compromise safety in any way, though," Magnus said. "It’s going to provide neighborhood-based community policing better than we’ve done in the past."
The union agreed the cuts are required, Gutierrez said.
“The plan being put forth by Chief Magnus, it’s a necessary plan to meet the budget restraints, however there are some concerns,” Gutierrez said.
One of those concerns is retaining officers after the changes are implemented, he said. Some investigative positions in domestic violence, metal thefts and gang violence are going to be eliminated, and Gutierrez said those are positions people strive to attain in a law enforcement career.
"By eliminating some of these specialized assignments, the draw to the Police Department or to remain with the Tucson Police Department will not be there.”
The long-term impact of the plans isn't known, but Gutierrez said if the department continues to have smaller-than-expected recruiting classes, the public will notice a change in policing.
"At this point it won’t have an impact on public safety, on the community. If we’re not able to hire, that’s when it will become an issue," he said.
Magnus said his plan is flexible, and because it will be rolled out in a two-year process, there is room to make changes if necessary.
The plan calls for using some of the savings to purchase new vehicles, cell phones and other equipment.
Those are necessary, Gutierrez said. Many officers are not assigned cell phones to use in the field, he said, but if they make work calls on their personal phone, all of their private communication can be subpoenaed in court.
Gutierrez said he also agrees many TPD vehicles need replacing. A lot of them are beyond 100,000 miles, which is a lot harder on a police car than a household vehicle because of the way officers must drive in emergency situations, he said.