TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Startling staffing statistics show that the total number of Tucson Police Department officers out patrolling the streets is at its lowest level in three decades.
Tucson Police Officers Association Vice President Tony Archibald said they have watched sworn officers flee the Tucson Police Department at an alarming rate.
According to Archibald, 24 officers went to other agencies in southern Arizona in the last six months, with most citing wage disparity as the reason, and they haven't been able to replace those positions fast enough.
Archibald spoke during the call to the audience at the Tuesday, March 6, city council meeting.
In a plea to the mayor and city council, he said that when he first started with the department in 2005 they had about 1,100 officer. That number is now 796, below 800 sworn officers for the first time since the late 1980s.
Realistically, the number of officers out in the community is much smaller. Archibald said there are only 332 patrol officers and sergeants taking 911 calls on a daily basis, while the remaining officers are department administration, command officers, investigative officers, or are injured or on leave.
"Officers can find better opportunities elsewhere," he told Tucson News Now. "It starts with compensation. These people have to feel appreciated out there risking their lives for the citizens of Tucson and the easiest way to do that is to pay them properly - what they were promised they would be paid when they signed up with the police department, which I don't think is too much to ask."
Meanwhile, Archibald said the population of Tucson has grown by more than 120,000 people, to around 525,000, since the 1990 census.
Archibald said it's the citizens who suffer when they don't get the response times they hope for because of prioritization.
"If your car is stolen, it's going to take an officer a long time to get to you. If your house is broken into, it's going to take a long time for an officer to get to you. Those are the things that, to me, those are the true victims that happen every single day and unfortunately they're the ones that are going to be under-served."
According to public annual salary listings, starting officers in Marana ($48,149) and Oro Valley ($49,086) are all making more than starting officers in Tucson ($47,132). But Archibald said skilled Tucson officers are still leaving for Sahuarita ($45,760) and the Pima County Sheriff's Department ($43,368) because of the potential for raises.
He said the Tucson pay scale has not gone up at the level that officers were promised.
"Nobody joins the police department to become rich. We understand that we are public servants. We understand where we are as far as the economic cycles involved," Archibald explained. "But the bottom line is that there is a market for highly-trained, highly-effective police officers and other jurisdictions are willing to pay more than the city of Tucson is right now for that experience."
We reached out to the city of Tucson to discuss the staffing issue and were directed to a memo from City Manager Michael Ortega to the mayor and city council.
In part, Ortega appears to realize there's a direct correlation between officer pay and resignation.
"The reasons for the increased turnover are probably several, but from exit interviews and many conversations with those leaving our organization, pay and the wage stagnation (what they call compression) are given as main reasons," Ortega stated. "In looking at the numbers, it costs us about $100k per officer to replace them when they leave. Simplistically, an additional 24 officers leaving every year equates to a cost of about $2.4 million. It is not fair to say this costs the organization these dollars solely like an additional expense, but more accurate to say these are opportunity costs associated with the City not providing about $2.4 million in police services. Regardless of how this is referred to, it is an inefficient use of taxpayer money and needs to be addressed."
READ the entire memo here: