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Christy: In or out? County attorney, city of Tucson must help anti-crime efforts in dealing with homeless

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Christy: In or out? County attorney, city of Tucson must help anti-crime efforts in dealing with homeless

“The Tucson Crime Free Coalition mission is a safe community for all, through the enforcement of our laws. We are advocates for adequate staffing and resources for law enforcement, treatment for those in need, and prosecution for criminals that are unwilling to abide by our laws.”

With these words a community-wide movement, now more than 1,500 strong and growing daily, was born. The Tucson Crime Free Coalition, a nonpartisan organization is composed of business owners and neighborhood leaders, is headed by Kevin Daily, an engineer by profession and a neighborhood and school leader as well, and two local business owners, Monica Carlson and Josh Jacobsen. These three activists have ignited business owners, concerned citizens, elected officials and government administrators by shining a large spotlight on the devastating effects of the unbridled crime in our region. While homelessness itself is not a crime, those living on the streets are causing much of the vandalism, theft, drug dealing and use, public indecency, physical attacks, and other illicit and illegal behaviors.

During recent Board of Supervisors meetings, radio interviews, and numerous meetings with elected officials, Tucson Crime Free Coalition leadership has expressed the dire urgency of the situation and that the city of Tucson and Pima County must act, and act now, to address the out of control criminal activity and lawlessness strangling our community. Reality dictates that drug addiction and/or mental illness contribute to homelessness and people living on the streets, which all can lead to criminality.  There is an obvious treatment need for those who are drug-addicted and/or mentally ill, and prosecution of those who ignore and break our laws.

The Tucson Crime Free Coalition, working with Pima County, is proposing a secure “triage” center on Mission Road, located on Pima County-owned land. This center would also house facilities for pre-trial services. Those who break our laws for lower level crimes, or “street crimes”, would go to this center and be held in the care of an appropriate not-for-profit agency, which would provide food and sheltering. The Sheriff’s Department would be on site as well, providing protection and security. Treatment experts would evaluate each offender to determine the cause or causes of their physical and/or mental condition in this pre-trial phase. The choices for offenders would be a.) submit to and receive treatment and care, or b.) go to jail. Obviously, this is a very thumbnail sketch of a very complex problem and process, but it is a start, that needs to happen now.

Hurdles to this effort, which we have yet to clear, seem to be resistance emanating from the Pima County Attorney’s Office, which appears to be reluctant to prosecute street crimes, and the City of Tucson, which seems to want to look the other way from this criminal activity. The city of Tucson’s approach has been to buy motels and convert them into “low barrier” (read - “no barrier”) warehousing for the homeless. The effects of this city of Tucson policy have been horrific on businesses and neighborhoods. As the owners of the Silver Saddle Restaurant stated before the Board of Supervisors, their experience is first hand. The landmark restaurant is located next door to one of the city of Tucson’s “low barrier” motels. Before the city of Tucson instituted this warehousing of the homeless, the Silver Saddle was serving more than 1,500 customers weekly. Now, as a result of criminal activity and behavior associated with the motel’s occupants, its client base has been diminished to almost nonexistent.

Without the willingness of the Pima County Attorney’s Office to prosecute street crimes, the Tucson Police Department has been forced to withdraw its very limited resources dedicated to patrolling and arresting street level criminals.

Pima County has taken the lead on a number of fronts. First, and perhaps most importantly, Pima County is acknowledging that there is a horrible crime problem.  Second, Pima County has agreed to take immediate action. Third, Pima County has identified available property it owns that is within the city of Tucson and can be used as a triage center. Now, the city of Tucson and the Pima County attorney must do their part and join with Pima County and Tucson Crime Free Coalition to fight against crime and prosecute criminals, and protect our citizens, their businesses and their neighborhoods.

Supervisor Steve Christy represents Pima County District 4, which spans from Mt. Lemmon through the Tanque Verde Valley, East Tucson, and Vail, south to Corona de Tucson and west to Green Valley.

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