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Cunningham: Tucson needs more police-review resources

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Cunningham: Tucson needs more police-review resources

My office has been inundated with literally hundreds of emails from citizens with concerns and questions about funding levels and the future of the Police Department. These emails cover the full range spectrum of community feeling on public safety issues. I thought it would be helpful to give you my statement on the current budget discussion:

The vice mayor will not support any budget that defunds our public aafety department. He also recognizes that systemic racism exists in our institutions and this will require our community to work together and have hard conversations. He believes that the safety and well-being of our community depend on both.

As we engage in the critical discussion over what role our Police Department plays in our community, I wanted to tell you a bit about an initiative we took on years ago.

Back in 1997 under the leadership of Mayor George Miller, the council passed an ordinance creating the Citizens Police Advisory Review Board as well as the Independent Police Auditor. These sorts of reforms were undertaken in many cities at that time, usually because of a federal consent decree. In Tucson's case, we did it without being ordered to.

I'll talk about CPARB and my new appointee to that committee over the next few weeks, but I'd like to talk about the Independent Police Auditor.

We've had some top-flight people in the office. The first was Liana Perez, who served in the role for well over a decade. Liana now serves at the director of operations for the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). She still serves an occasional advisory role for the current IPA, Mitch Kagen. Kagen is, like me, a former probation officer who served in New York, Nogales and Tucson. He was a city magistrate for 12 years before being appointed IPA almost five years ago.

The IPA is part of the City Manager's Office, not the Tucson Police Department. Although, IPA maintains an office at both City Hall and TPD's headquarters.

All completed investigations by the Office of Professional Standards (also known as OPS, TPD's version of Internal Affairs) are subject to review by the IPA. The IPA is allowed access to unredacted records, which is rare for similar officials in other cities. The IPA's job does not involve disciplinary action, but reviews undertaken can result in further investigation of cases by OPS. This basic role has expanded, particularly under the leadership of Chief Magnus. The office now reviews administrative investigations (incidents that don't involve the public) and Kagen has served as an instructor at the police academy.

The IPA also serves a critical role in the various review boards that evaluate police conduct. The IPA is most intimately involved in the Force Review Board, which evaluates incidents where an officer used a weapon. The IPA reviews citizen candidates for that committee and appoints them. The committee has been expanded from 7 to 11 members to better reflect our community.

The IPA serves as an advisor to CPARB, which is important since that committee is composed entirely of citizen volunteers. Kagen is also a member of the Sentinel Event Review Board, which is at work reviewing the two recent death in custody incidents for TPD.

Kagen does a lot of outreach on his own. He makes a point of engaging the local homeless community and comes to HOA and neighborhood association meetings to talk about his job and to make himself available for people that have concerns about the police.

We've got both a good structure and definitely a good leader in Kagen for that office, but my colleagues and I still have a lot of work to do and hard conversations about the work our police do. The two most recent incidents, the deaths of Mr. Ingram-Lopez and Mr. Alvarado, were not reviewed by the IPA because those cases were not yet closed. We need to make sure that the IPA is among the group notified of deaths in custody whether or not an OPS case is closed. There is already a procedure to bring the IPA in earlier if an officer discharges a firearm. I want that procedure codified and expanded for all deaths in custody.

Also, we need to consider expanding the IPA. You may have noticed that I talked a lot about what Kagen has done, but not much about his staff. That's because he doesn't have any. It's a one-person shop.

The IPA is now responsible for looking over body camera footage for every incident, which didn't exist in 1997. There is also a great deal of data the office is responsible for compiling and analyzing. IPAs in other cities with similarly sized departments can have up to a dozen employees, including data analysts, community outreach specialists and even attorneys. I would like to look at expanding the office.

Kagen has quietly been doing a marvelous job these past years. It's time for us to give him the tools to do that job even better to increase transparency and accountability.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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budget, city council, paul cunningham, tpd

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