"What a joke": KGUN9 viewers demand action on police funding

TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor

"What a joke": KGUN9 viewers demand action on police funding

CREATED Nov 14, 2012

Notes and commentary by:  Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director

Over the past few weeks, at the request of our viewers, 9 On Your Side has been investigating a rash of burglaries around the area.  Those stories have led to some arrests.  But in the course of investigating the issue, viewers asked us to check into incidents involving long response times from the Tucson Police Department.   And when we say "long," we mean really long - 8 hours or more.  One case got no response of any kind.

So, we dug deeper.  So far, viewers are applauding that.

One of the ironies of the current situation is that it was just three years ago that Tucson voters had to decide on an initiative that would have forced the city to spend more money on police and fire.  The city administration bitterly opposed the idea, saying that Tucson just didn't have the money do to any such thing.  The initiative failed.  And right after that, instead of providing more funding, the city cut back. 

And here we are. 

In talking to police, there seems to be little doubt that overworked officers are doing the best they can with the resources the city has given them.  Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor didn't mince words.  He admitted the response times are not acceptable.  But then he told us, "The reality is we're working with 160 less officers than when we were at the height of our staffing in 2008."

That is not the fault of the police department.  In fact, the evidence shows TPD has been doing the best it can to find alternative sources of funding, through grants and whatnot.   But those sources only go so far and have not closed the gap.  Councilman Steve Kozachik put it bluntly:  "We, the mayor and council, are the ones putting the public at risk because we're not giving the police the resources they need," Kozachik said. "So the blame doesn't fall on TPD. It falls on the back of the Mayor and Council."

Mayor Rothschild also acknowledged the issue to 9 On Your Side and said that improving this situation is a priority for council.  But in our story the only solution he offered is to hope that budgets will improve as the economy eases.

Is that the best we can do?

KGUN9 viewers don't think so.  One viewer complained that the city is spending money on items that aren't necessarily critical, and pointed to the modern streetcar that's now under construction as an example.  On Tuesday night, 9 On Your Side reporter Marcelino Benito presented that viewer's comment to councilman Paul Cunningham.

That led to an interesting response.  Cunningham said, "The streetcar is a federal grant, it's got nothing to do with writing the city budget every year."

Actually, that's not quite the case.  Yes, a federal grant and other funding sources are underwriting much of the construction. But the operating costs are a different matter.  As KGUN9 and others have reported, fares will pay for only a small portion of those ongoing costs.  Taxpayers are on the hook for the rest, including a big chunk from the city -- to the (projected)  tune of about $4 million in the first year.   As 9 On Your Side has reported, TPD's police association objects to that, for the same reason our viewer did, believing the money should go to public safety instead.

We don't mean to be too hard on the councilman, who was kind enough to sit with us, watch our most recent story, and respond to our viewers in good faith.  The budget is complicated, and very view people, politicians included, are expert on every jot, tittle and nuance. That's what the city staff is for.  But what this does illustrate is that there is some confusion about what all the options really are.  The viewer who made this point gets that.  The Tucson Police Officers' Association gets that.   Whether you are a fan of the streetcar or not, it's reasonable to ask the mayor and council to sit down with the city staff and give this issue a fresh look, examining all possible options.  It's not only reasonable, it's what many of our viewers are demanding. 

The alternative is to resign ourselves to living in a city where burglars and other crooks have a free reign. 

That's what we think.   Here's what many of you have to say.

Robert Davis (in response to explanations that there isn't enough money in the budget):  "Those are excuses! Plain and simple!!"

Steven Michael:  "The problem is, you don't know if the burglar is still inside your residence hiding somewhere. When my cousin's former apartment was broken into the first time, TPD showed up about 20 minutes later and entered his apartment with their guns drawn. Same thing the second time. Beforehand, the PD phone operator told us not to go inside for this very reason until TPD arrived."

Randy and Cindy Palmer:  "In a city where you furlough the police in order to build a trolley then what do you expect? After 30 years at TPD I can tell you that the cops are running call to call to call for 10 hours straight.  There are far too many violent calls and not enough cops. You want better response time then hire more cops."

Susana S Cornejo:  "It's sad... I agree we need more police officers not 1 for two thousand people.  That's just crazy."

Ronald Gordon:  "Someone didn't vote for a tax increase or increased funding. Can't do more with less. As to the trolley that was funded by RTA separate from the city."

Crystal Kelso:  "My mom's home was broken into a year ago and the officer who came wouldn't do fingerprints and wouldn't go to the people's house who did it. She plain out did nothing about it. The people who did it even tried to set it on fire."

Robin Rodriguez:  "My house was broken into and the cops did finally show up, looked around said sorry this happened took the report and left. I had to go to a neighborhood meeting to get someone to come take finger print weeks later. Was never even told where to get my police report and like the cop said we will never be able to find out who did it. So I was out of luck, out of a lot of money and afraid to even leave my house."

David Hohman:  "Shouldn't be a surprise. When the police/fire proposition didn't pass in 2010 (I think) Villasenor said the department wouldn't even be able to respond to non-emergency calls unless they got the additional funds. The people of Tucson should be happy to still have any type of police force."

Alison Prisament-Henderson:  "Our house was broken into about 6 or 7 years ago now. Kitchen window was broken, computer was taken, bedroom was trashed and things stolen from there. I can't remember how many hours it took for somebody to show up but when someone finally did it was some sort of community liaison. He merely filled out the proper paperwork so we could check pawn shops for any of our items. Big disappointment TPD!!"

Jeffrey C. Miller: "Protecting life and property is what all officers swear to in their oath. Stop using police officers as social workers.  Start putting officers back on the streets and get them out of office and administrative functions."

Marilyn Olbin:  "It's coming to a point, where you're scared to leave your home. It's really sad."

Shelby Irons Scheer:  "Good luck getting the City Council to care or do anything about these break-ins."

Ray Dominguez:  "Now cmon the city clowncil has bigger problems, like banning plastic grocery bags.  What a joke of a city Tucson has become."

Steve Jimenez:  "Somebody was eying my car in my driveway. I only waited 2 hours for a response, however I do carry a gun and the individual saw it, got scared, and rode off.  Don't be a victim. Arm yourselves, get proper training, and use your firearm tools."

Jim Ferrier: "Look people, cold burglaries are not a high priority with any department. It's only property. I've been ripped off too and I was in law enforcement for thirty plus years. I got most my stuff back because I had my driver license number engraved on all valuable property and a list of serial numbers tucked away."

Jeffery Boggs: "I'd still want to know how many traffic tickets were written while I waited for them to respond."

Bruce Small (via email):  "Several years ago I had a $22,000 piece of survey equipment stolen from an apartment complex. The Tucson police investigation consisted of their mailing me a report for me to fill out and send back to them. That was it."

John Page Burton (to anchor Jennifer Waddell):  "Keep up the good work! When you are on the investigative trail you are at your best!"

Viewers have asked 9 On Your Side not to go away on this, and we're not. Among other things, we've been going down the list of city's elected and appointed leaders, with the idea in mind of showing them our stories, and asking them to respond.  We thank chief Villaseñor, mayor Rothschild, and councilmen Cunningham and Kozachik for being open to that process.  We're still going down the list.

Meanwhile, we welcome your comments on this or any issue that we cover.  You can leave your comments at the bottom of any story on KGUN9.com or log onto our Facebook page.  You can also check directly in with anchor Jennifer Waddell, who has taken a special interest in these stories.  Her Facebook page can be found here.  Jennifer is an excellent contact for anyone who has a burglary-related story or issue they'd like us to look into.  "You Ask, We Investigate."