Tucson police, community leaders meet following Dallas shootings
Community leaders and the heads of three local police forces met Friday and said they would work to maintain a dialogue with communities of color in response to a paroxysm of violence this week, which peaked with an attack on police officers in Dallas following a protest march, leaving five officers dead and seven others injured.
Ramon Batista, the acting chief of the Tucson Police Department, represented Chief Chris Magnus, who left Tucson on Friday morning to deal with a family medical emergency. Batista said that TPD officers "have a solid relationship" with the community and he was confident that they were "some of the finest men and women in law enforcement today."
At a news conference held at Tucson police headquarters, Batista was joined by Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos and Brian Seastone, the chief of police at the University of Arizona.
Batista noted that TPD was one of 15 police departments selected as part of an initiative to help agencies with recommendations set by a White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and was working hard to integrate community policing efforts.
Among the community leaders who joined Batista was DaMond Holt, the pastor of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church.
"Our nation and our community is in a state of emergency, a state of urgency," Holt said, referencing the turmoil and outrage that began on Tuesday, following the release of cellphone video that showed police officers in Louisiana shot and kill Alton Sterling, 37, while they were arresting him for selling CDs outside of a convenience store.
As protests began in Louisiana, the next day the girlfriend of Philando Castile, 32, streamed a live video on Facebook of Castile bleeding and slumping in the driver's seat of his car after he was shot by a police officer in Minnesota.
These deaths were tragic, Holt said, and lead to the "assassination" of five police officers who worked to "protect and serve the community."
There is something we need to do, Holt said that that includes building relationships between law enforcement and the community. "We need to be more proactive and not reactive," Holt said.
"We have to honor the sacrifices of first responders," said Deborah Embry, president of the Tucson Urban League. "I call upon our elected officials and community leaders, and every American, to dedicate ourselves to ending gun violence and ending the rift between law enforcement and the community they serve."
Batista said that his officers would remain vigilant in the next few weeks, but that the department's practices would remain largely unchanged as the department continued to pursue its own goals of "full-service" policing despite the shootings in Dallas.
TPD officers will be present at a Black Lives Matter vigil to be held at 6 p.m. in Armory Park on Saturday, and will follow the same practices the department has used in previous protests and vigils in Tucson, Batista said.
"We'll have a heightened awareness, but our officers are dedicated to serving the community," Batista said, and officers would respond to every call. "We've put our messaging to our officers that emphasize our role in the community."
Batista said that officers would continue to respond to calls as usual and would not respond to "hysteria" that could "paralyze" officers to inaction.
Less than two hours after Batista made his remarks, a Tucson police officer shot and killed a man during a response to a mental health crisis call.
The officer killed the man after he advanced on the officer, and ignored orders to stop, while holding one or two knives, including a large butcher knife, authorities said.