Pima County supervisors appointed a new police officer and ordered body-worn cameras for staff at an office facing multiple vacancies and high tensions following the fatal shooting of Police Officer Deborah Martinez-Garibay in August.
The newly appointed officer will be based in Northwest County Judicial District 10 and will assume the position of serving subpoenas such as eviction and protective orders from the judiciary courts.
The board on Tuesday delayed voting on the appointment of two new deputy police officers and also delayed consideration of reducing police officers’ salaries if they fail to adopt coherent principles governing their jobs.
The Bureau of Police Officers has five vacancies in the county’s most populous jurisdictions serving Pima County Consolidated Justice Court writs and leaves the work of eight counties in the hands of three police officers.
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One such vacancy is left by Martinez-Garibay, who died Aug. 25 after serving an eviction at an apartment complex on the North Side. Apartment manager Angela Fox-Heath and a neighboring bystander, Elijah Miranda, were also shot dead after the officer tried to evict Gavin Lee Stansell, who turned the gun on himself after taking three more lives.
Chief Constable Bill Lake asked the board to authorize the ordering of body-worn cameras and new tasers for each officer at a cost of $10,500 for the remainder of this fiscal year and a total cost of $78,250 that the district will purchase over a 60-month lease will pay off. Lake said the cameras not only help to accurately record officers’ encounters with the public, but are even more important after the August shooting.
“If[Garibay-Martinez]was wearing a body cam, we could have focused on what actually happened from the perspective,” he said. “It helps with liability issues for the district, helps with liability issues for the police bureau and puts citizens at ease because of course we’ll also be at our best when we’re caught.” ”
Buying body worn cameras also comes with new tasers that activate the cameras when in use. Some cops have county-issued tasers, but the new purchase will ensure all cops have access to a “less-than-lethal option” to protect themselves, Lake said.
The board also appointed Anton Chism Sr., owner of local sign maker Innovative Signs, to take over from former constable Michael Stevenson, who announced his retirement in October. The term ends in 2024.
Lake said Chism has already started training and is confident he can fulfill the position.
Heavy workloads burden the office
The combined number of papers served by the three police officers working out of the consolidated courts rose more than 45% from August to October, according to data from the Bureau of Police. In October, Lake, Bennett Bernal, and George Camacho edited 63, 154, and 104 newspapers, respectively.
Constable Oscar Vasquez recently returned from sick leave but is now off after a COVID exposure. Police officers Jose Gonzalez and Thomas Schenkek still work at the Ajo and Green Valley Judicial Courts, which operate separately from the Consolidated Judicial Court.
Constables Stevenson and John Dorer have resigned, and Constable Esther Gonzalez, a close friend of Martinez-Garibay, who expressed concern about the lack of police officer safety following the shooting, has not shown up for work nor has she had a resignation letter since August submitted. Lake said she is still being paid by the county, but that the process of removing her would take longer than her December 31 term expiration.
The composition of the office will change significantly in January. Francisco Lopez was elected to take over from Gonzalez in Judicial District 2. The board last year voted to disband Judicial District 5 in east Tucson, where Lake currently chairs. The chief constable will take over Garibay-Martinez’s former position in Judicial District 8, while the board has yet to appoint someone to take over Dorer’s position in Judicial District 1.
To help with the increasing workload, Lake had asked officers to consider hiring two assistant officers at their Tuesday meeting, but the officer was ill and unable to defend the action before the board. The board will review the hiring at its December 6 meeting.
The Deputy Police Officers would be state-certified law enforcement officers working alongside other police officers serving newspapers throughout the region. The hiring would not only improve police officers’ workloads, Lake said, but also provide support when officers find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.
The two assistant officers would begin with annual salaries of $55,000 each at an estimated total cost of $132,700 with perks and new equipment.
Officer Bernal supports the hiring of assistant officers because elected officers currently must wait for assistance from the Tucson Police Department or Pima County Sheriff’s Departments when approaching potentially dangerous situations.
“If you look at the sheriff’s office, TPD, their philosophy is power by numbers. They bring not only an officer, but everything that is needed to improve the situation,” he said. “If you bring an auxiliary police officer with you, we’re safer… When you enter a building or apartment, at least you have someone to back you up.”
Constable Camacho also supports hiring assistant constables as the area’s “law enforcement agencies are thinly saturated”.
Supervisor Steve Christy expressed his support for the new positions after speaking with Lake because the police officers’ office is “painfully understaffed and understaffed,” he said Tuesday. Supervisor Adelita Grijalva requested more information on the number of papers served per jurisdiction and to speak with Lake at a board meeting before voting on the cost.
The board also considered a recommendation from County Administrator Jan Lesher that police officers’ salaries be reduced to $48,294, the lowest legally permissible, unless they agree to a coherent set of principles. The board delayed voting on the item to allow for legal guidance, but Lesher said she withdrew the recommendation after speaking with Lake.
A report released by the county last September found that officers take different approaches to their jobs, leading to different outcomes for those the officers serve. Former Deputy County Clerk Mark Napier, the former sheriff who has since retired from his position in the county commissioner, wrote the report, which described the officers as a “fragmented group” with different workloads working for the same annual salary of $67,000. lead dollars.
Lesher’s recommendations for the guiding principles include developing evenly distributed workloads, maintaining consistent approaches to evictions, and distributing a “standard set of information” that lists the number of papers served and days worked for each officer. Officer salaries can only be changed by the board in election cycles, so the next opportunity to enforce the policy through pay cuts is January 2025.
According to Lake, police officers approach work differently due to the different demographics of the counties they serve, and police officers presiding in rural areas have longer commutes between stops, resulting in fewer papers being delivered. The consolidation of the workload could also take police officers out of the counties where they were elected.
“I like to take care of my own territory. I have a great relationship with my housing managers. I have a great relationship with a lot of people in the community,” Camacho said. “I’m not saying I’m against anyone doing my evictions for me. But I like the way I run my business and I’m not sure I would like it like anyone else would.”
However, Bernal said something needs to be done about a disproportionate amount of work falling into the hands of some police officers.
“It’s time for everyone in this office to do their part,” he said. “This shouldn’t even be a discussion, it should just be common sense that cops should help each other.”
Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at email@example.com