N4T Investigators: Twitter Battle - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Twitter Battle

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TUCSON - A pastor's Tweet about a delayed police response prompted a reply from Chief Chris Magnus.

Somebody stole 2 monitors from Tucson Baptist Church on Columbus Boulevard near 22nd Street last weekend.

Pastor Brent Armstrong posted to Twitter, "If I stop the AM service and have 700-800 people call 911, would that give us a little more priority This is embarrassing for our city that a church is so disrespected [sic]"

Armstrong said it was a tongue-in-cheek way to express his frustration.

"I would never do that," Armstrong said.

Magnus replied, "Priority of response is based on nature of calls in relation to the number of emergencies officers are tied up on or are responding to, not the number of people who call on any one complaint. We're happy to explain further on Monday and help as best we can."

Capt. Paul Sayre runs the Midtown Substation. He called Armstrong Sunday afternoon.

"He shouldn't have to wait," Sayre said, "and I completely get his frustration. And that's what our conversation was basically about."

The crime was over, and nobody was in immediate danger, so officers responded to other calls.

"If you go to the emergency room for a cough or a flu or something relatively minor," Sayre said, "you're going to get pushed back for every trauma case that comes in."

Delayed responses have been a problem for years. Tucson had almost 1,200 officers in 2008. The department currently has fewer than 800.

Tucson City Council Member Paul Cunningham helped lead the fight for substantial officer pay raises this year.

"I want to be cautiously optimistic," Cunningham said. "But you can't pose a rosy situation when your staffing level at one point got all the way below almost 800 officers."

The Tucson Police Officers Association has praised Cunningham and the pay package. Sgt. Jobe Dickinson is the organization's vice president.

"This is going to be a long problem," Dickinson said. "It took us a decade to shrink down to where we are. And unfortunately it's going to take a little bit of time to get us back up to the proper staffing."

The department has 70 potential officers currently training. Another class of 45 is scheduled to start in July. Officers take about 8 months before they are completely trained.

"Hopefully we can be back up to 900 officers, I don't want to say by December, but by within a year from now," Cunningham said. "I think that's a good direction."

Even with fewer leaving for other departments, officers will still retire and leave for other reasons.

"I would love to see our numbers go up above 900 in a year," Dickinson said. "I don't know if that's necessarily the case."

Sayre said service is also improving because more community service officers are trained to take reports and handle calls that are less dangerous.

"We are getting better," Sayre said. "I think the future looks very bright."

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