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Launius takes lead on Tucson mayor's community safety health, wellness program

Sarah Launius — former chief of staff for the Ward 3 Council office under Councilmembers Karin Uhlich and Paul Durham — has been tapped to lead the Tucson's new Community Safety, Health and Wellness program, Mayor Regina Romero announced Wednesday.

The new program was central to Romero's "State of the City" speech in December, and tasks Launius to work "closely" with several city departments and community groups to "execute the mayor's vision for community safety, health, and wellness," city officials said.

Along with community groups, Launius with work with the city's public safety departments—including the Police and Fire departments and 911 Communications— as well as city housing, planning and development, code enforcement, and city courts.

In 2020, the city launched a pilot program during which city officials—including the mayor's office and the city manager's office—conducted more than 35 listening sessions, including five specific to each of the city's six wards.

Launius served as the chief of staff for Councilman Paul Durham before he resigned in Feb. 2021, and later worked for his replacement Karin Uhlich, who didn't seek election to the office last year. Councilman Kevin Dahl succeeded Uhlich after winning the 2021 election in November.

"Launius brings a wealth of experience building coalitions to advance community safety, health, and wellness for Tucson residents, businesses, and neighborhoods and will continue the city's efforts to engage with the community through surveys, focus groups, and town halls as this effort evolves," said city officials, adding that she has "a proven track record of building inter-departmental and inter-agency efforts to advance community-driven quality-of-life improvements."

"That includes researching, developing, and coordinating a multi-departmental team to address high call-generating vacant and neglected properties and efforts to revitalize neighborhood associations in areas of historical disinvestment, poverty, and crime," city officials said.

Before she worked for the city of Tucson, Launius worked with area nonprofits to "develop and coordinate programs and work in collaborative coalitions with public agencies to advance shared goals," city officials said. 

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"I am thrilled to be joining the Community Safety, Health & Wellness Program developed by Mayor Romero and the City Council," Launius said. "My experience working closely with Tucson residents to co-develop solutions to advance their community safety provides an important grounding for the visionary work ahead."

Romero said she had the "full confidence" that Launius is "the right person to successfully guide this initiative from program development to implementation.

The city's new Community Safety, Health and Wellness program was a major part of Romero's December address outlining her priorities.

"Our team is intentional about putting equity and justice at the forefront of housing, climate, economic development and now...community safety, health and wellness," said Romeo. "Last spring, we took the bold step of re-imagining what community safety can be," she said, adding that in December the city was partnering with community organizations to "take on these issues holistically."

"We know that to create a vibrant and robust community, we must address the root causes of violence and crime: poverty, historic disinvestment and lack of economic opportunity," Romero said, adding that the "under the umbrella of Community Safety, Health and Wellness, we are in the process of hiring a program director to lead this program."

Two weeks ago, the city launched the Reimagining Community Safety Survey, a six-month survey program, in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee, that will seek opinions for the city's Health and Wellness program.

The city said that the survey would seek to "tackle racial injustice and inequity for communities of color," and would use survey results to "drive progress toward a more equitable justice system" by seeking viewpoints from communities about what "constitutes safety in their neighborhoods."

"This extensive community outreach and input are vital for the city of Tucson to better serve its residents," city officials wrote. The survey will be accepting responses for the next six months.

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Sara Launius, the inaugural program director for the city's Community Safety, Health & Wellness program.