'I can’t afford more cuts in public safety': TPD chief warns against further cuts

'I can’t afford more cuts in public safety': TPD chief warns against further cuts

CREATED Mar 7, 2013

Reporter: Marcelino Benito

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Federal budget cuts in Washington could impact the Tucson Police Department, but the bigger problem on the horizon could come from budget cuts made right here in our own backyard.

“I can’t afford any more cuts to public safety,” said Villaseñor.

Villaseñor tells 9OYS more cuts to TPD would be a problem.

“As we cut that has a tremendous impact on the community,” said Villaseñor. “I’m hoping we can find a way not to cut.”

9OYS sat down with the Chief to talk federal budget cuts. Washington’s inaction kicked in the sequester last week. Villaseñor says that loss of federal dollars will impact narcotics enforcement as early as next fiscal year.

“If we say it’s not going to have an effect that’s just not realistic,” said Villaseñor. “But I don’t think we have to say the sky is falling.”

As 9OYS discovered, the real concern for the Chief is the looming budget decisions made at City Hall.

“Since I’ve been chief it has been constantly cutting the budget,” he said. “I have not had one period of growth in the four years I’ve been Chief. We’ve just been making the Department smaller. “

The question now, how much smaller can it realistically get? And will public safety be impacted? TPD is already 140 officers down.

“I don’t have the officers to give what I feel are adequate response times to lower level calls like thefts or burglaries,” said Villaseñor.

Tucsonans agree.

“We had two break-ins over the last six months, and we had a very long wait,” said Kate Schuj. “I’d imagine if cuts were to happen we’d have even a longer wait. So absolutely not, I wouldn’t support cuts of any type.”

The Chief wants the public to know he’s listening.

“I understand the frustration,” said Villaseñor.

And that’s the backdrop as the City of Tucson gears up for another budget battle. This time they have to plug a $15 million hole.

“Do you think the city should cut elsewhere?” asked 9OYS reporter Marcelino Benito. “Please, find the money elsewhere,” replied Schuj. “We can’t afford to lose our officers that protect us.”

To help with response times, the Chief has created what he calls an “alternative response unit.” It’s made up of about 10 officers. They will be charged with handling lower level calls, primarily over the phone. The hope is officers will be able to handle those calls quickly and free up other officers for faster response times for more serious calls.

The City Council will discuss public safety and the budget at a March 27th study session.