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Deputy Chief Kasmar tapped to lead Tucson police as Magnus leaves for CBP post

Magnus confirmed as head of Customs & Border Protection by U.S. Senate after long delay

Deputy Chief Chad Kasmar will lead the Tucson Police Department, replacing Chief Chris Magnus — who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday evening to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

With Magnus' confirmation imminent, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to make Kasmar the new leader for Tucson's police force, tapping the 21-year veteran to lead a force of about 800 sworn officers and 200 civilian employees. Unlike the process that led to the hiring of Magnus, the city has not conducted a national search for the next police chief.

"During his 21-year career at the Tucson Police Department, Chad Kasmar has earned the respect of our Tucson community as well as fellow officers. Chad has proven himself to be a collaborator who sees public safety through a holistic lens and shares my vision of community safety, health, and wellness," said Mayor Regina Romero.

Kasmar has been with TPD since August 2000, moving up through the ranks as a sergeant with the force’s Street Crime Interdiction Unit, Community Response Team, as a commander in Operations Divisions South, West, Midtown and East. As a captain, Kasmar was commander of Operations Division East, and he served as chief of staff in the Office of the Chief of Police. 

In November 2016, Kasmar was promoted to deputy chief and recently served as the interim director for Tucson's troubled 911 communications system, where he has "helped to transform this department and filled a critical need," Romero said.

During the vote, council members heaped praised on Kasmar.

City Councilman Steve Kozachik said that Kasmar’s time as the head of 911 Communications was important. “He stepped into a tough situation and kites fly highest against the wind,” and he worried that by “poaching” him from the 911 center, the council would have a succession issue there.

"But I think Chad's the right person, at the right time, at the right place," he said, adding that he hates to see Magnus go.

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Newly elected Councilman Kevin Dahl said that Kasmar was the right choice.

"It just doesn't make sense to do a national search when we have such talent," Dahl said.

Councilmember Lane Santa Cruz said that over the last two years, she had gotten to know him and he approached the job with "great humility, even when people are approaching with divergent perspectives."

"I know that he could retire now, and I think it's crazy that he'd want to step into a no-win position," she said. "So, thank you Chad for stepping up to the plate."

A third-generation Tucsonan, Kasmar graduated from the University of Arizona, and went to school in the Amphitheater Public Schools district. 

Kasmar's appointment as TPD chief comes at a difficult time. One police officer faces questions about his use of force during an off-duty encounter outside a Midtown eatery, and last week, TPD fired an officer after body-camera footage showed him shooting a man in a motorized wheelchair, hitting the 61-year-old man nine times in the back and killing him.

As part of his appointment, Kasmar was asked to embark on a "listening tour with community members throughout our city to inform his vision for the department," Romero said. "Chad Kasmar is a proud product of Tucson with deep roots, he understands the needs of our city, and he is ready to take on the challenges ahead."

Magnus confirmed by Senate

Meanwhile, Magnus was confirmed to lead CBP in a narrow 50-47 vote by the Senate on Tuesday evening. 

Magnus was nominated to lead 58,000-strong agency by President Joe Biden in April, but confirmation was held up by the Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, for months because under the Biden administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department had "failed to answer basic questions" about how federal officers — including members of the U.S. Border Patrol's special operations group BORTAC — operated during unrest in Portland, Ore., in July 2020.

However, Wyden agreed to let Magnus' nomination move forward in September following a call with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Wyden said that Mayorkas called the actions of some federal officers in Portland "unacceptable," and promised to release a report by the agency's Office of Intelligence and Analysis that reviewed the actions of DHS personnel in Portland last year.

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Wyden's move comes after DHS said it would create the Law Enforcement Coordination Council to oversee its law enforcement agencies.

During his hearing in early November, Magnus managed to walk a fine line, fielding questions from Democrats while avoiding calling this year's rise in encounters with migrants a "crisis" along the border. During the hearing, Magnus agreed that COVID-19 vaccinations for immigrants would be reasonable, and told Senate Republicans that a border wall would make sense in some areas, along with better technology for Border Patrol officers.

"If we spent a little less time debating on what the terminology is and perhaps a little more time trying to fix a broken system and working together, we could address what I’ve already acknowledged is one of the most serious problems that we face right now in our nation," Magnus said.

Backed by U.S. Sens. Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Magnus told the committee that as a resident of a city near the U.S.-Mexico border, it was "essential to recognize that what we think of as the border is not homogeneous, and there is no one solution that will provide us the perfect border security."

"If confirmed, I will do what I have always done in my professional career: uphold the law," he said. "I will also expect — without exception — that all agency personnel be conscientious, fair and humane when enforcing the law," he said.

As soon Magnus was nominated, the ACLU immediately pushed for the new commissioner to begin rolling back Trump-era border policies, a move that will be difficult as DHS has restarted the notorious "Remain in Mexico" program last week as part of a lawsuit over the program launched by Republican governors and attorneys general. And, Magnus comes to the position as CBP faces significant pressure over a massive influx of people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as serious questions about how agents treat migrants while two Trump-era policies remain in place, and may be shuttered by federal courts.

This includes a process known as "metering" when CBP officials have told asylum seekers that their facility is full, when this simply wasn't true. Magnus will also have to deal with the fallout of challenges against Title 42—a policy ostensibly supported by the CDC that allows the agency to rapidly deport those who crossed into the U.S. after they traveled through a country with COVID-19 infections—which has been successfully challenged by immigrant and civil rights groups on behalf of migrant children and families.

"Now that Commissioner Magnus has been confirmed, we call upon him to bring an end to the Trump-era border policies his agency administers, which have created chaos and caused immense suffering. Commissioner Magnus should prioritize evidence-based decision making at the border. Harsh deterrence measures achieve nothing but harm to those fleeing complex and dangerous root causes far beyond our border," said Jonathan Blazer, director of border strategies for the ACLU. "Commissioner Magnus must commit to overseeing the restoration of asylum at the border. He must also deliver on the Biden administration’s promise to bring transparency and accountability to an agency that has for years failed to address a culture of abuse and systemic impunity."

Kelly and Sinema praised Magnus' nomination in a statement writing that the "bipartisan vote gives Arizona much-needed leadership at Customs and Border Protection at a time when we continue to face challenges at the border demonstrated by the increase in migrants in the Yuma Sector over the past two days." 

"Chris Magnus brings experience and understanding of Southern Arizona that will be important for his new role leading CBP as we continue working to secure the border, upgrade our ports of entry, and ensure a more orderly and humane process at the border that doesn’t fall on Arizona communities," said Kelly.

"Today’s confirmation of Chris Magnus to be commissioner of Customs and Border Protection underscores the Senate’s trust in his exceptional qualifications and history of service," said Sinema. "This confirmation represents a step toward improving how the federal government manages and secures the border. I look forward to working with Commissioner Magnus to secure the border, protect our communities, and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely." 

"I congratulate Chief Magnus on his appointment and am grateful for his dedicated service and contributions to our community. I look forward to working together with the commissioner on key issues affecting Southern Arizona,” said Romero. 

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TPD Chief Chris Magnus has been confirmed to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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