A mapping of Tucson’s 2020 crime figures revealed that 60% of shootings were consolidated to a very small percentage of neighborhoods in Arizona’s second-largest city. The data also identified three apartment complexes in different locations that were home to a disproportionate amount of criminal activity. That’s why Tucson Police Department and city leaders selected these three sites to be the focus of a new Place Network Investigations (PNI) initiative.
The program uses geography and offender data to identify “micro locations” where violence occurs most often. Then police seek to engage various stakeholders, most importantly property owners and managers, residents and neighborhood businesses, to invest resources to improve safety, quality of life and assist in identifying alleged criminals. Several cities, including Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Denver and Wichita, Kansas, have incorporated PNI into community policing policies and posted encouraging results. According to the Arizona Daily Star, a University of Nevada in Las Vegas review of a 2016 Cincinnati program using similar tactics reported a one-year decrease in shooting victims by more than 80% and time between shootings expanded by nearly 100 days.
The Tucson PNI program began in January with the police department reaching out to apartment management companies. Two out of three agreed to immediately institute building improvements such as painting, repairs and installing better lighting. The property managers and owners also agreed to evict residents if they’re confirmed to be involved with crimes.
“Everyone needs affordable, safe housing, and we’re trying to provide that. We’ve made really fantastic progress in a short amount of time and Tucson police have helped tremendously,” Shar Morganstern, regional supervisor for Scotia Group Management, which oversees the Rancho del Mar Apartments, told the newspaper.
Additionally, the Tucson P.D. hosts monthly meetings with representatives from several city departments to coordinate outreach efforts to disseminate information and services to residents in the PNI neighborhoods. For example, officers joined the city’s fire department’s Tucson Collaborative Community Care teams dispensing pamphlets on domestic violence and emergency shelters resources, and distributing medical and food assistance. They also combined efforts to hand out Narcan treatments for opioid overdoses.
Plus, program leaders survey residents to gauge their concerns as well as to form cooperative relationships. Civilian intelligence already has aided investigations. For example, tips regarding a suspect’s vehicle led to a traffic stop and the recovery of weapons and body armor, and the arrest of a suspect for a double homicide committed days earlier.
Although the program has been active for only a few months, incident tracking suggests it’s making a positive impact. The Arizona Daily Star reported last month that one PNI site recorded only two weapon incidents as of March this year.
However, officials recognize PNI could generate negative impressions, too.
“We understand there is a risk of over-policing whenever we focus in on any particular location, and we really want to be really sensitive to that,” said Lieutenant Tony Archibald, who oversees one of the programs sites.
“Rather than assuming this is all about more enforcement, I think what you have here is the police using their organizing authority to bring other [city departments] in to look at these issues as multi-dimensional,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director for the Police Executive Research Forum.
“The people who live in these communities don’t want to be victimized, so you’re addressing crime issues as well as basic needs,” he added. “The goal is to strengthen the community’s capacity to be strong. Through more communication and engagement, this becomes a partnership instead of police coming into a community and making arrests and leaving.”
The program’s full impact will be determined with a review at the end of its three-year commitment.
“Do we just call [last year’s rise in crime] a spike? Or did we actually have an effect on a location that has been a chronic hot spot for decades? You’ve got to have some time behind it,” said Captain Stacie Schaener, who heads up Tuscon P.D.’s new Special Services and Innovation Bureau, reported the Arizona Daily Star.