Case Study 3

Tucson Police Department

Embracing 21CP Task Force Report recommendations into agency operations and organizational culture.



The City of Tucson has a growing population of over half a million people, making it the second most-populated city in Arizona behind Phoenix. Located approximately 100 miles southeast of Phoenix and 60 miles north of the US-Mexico border, Tucson is home to the University of Arizona. The city boasts a large Latino population, with 43 percent of the population being Hispanic or Latino.


A Message from Chief Magnus

On the Tucson Police Department’s (TPD) Data & Analysis Portal, Chief Magnus talks about how modern policing is informed by data. TPD is working to make more of its internal data available to the rest of the community, to inform discussions around law enforcement in Tucson.

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The Tucson Police Department (TPD) serves the city with 1,129 total staff, including 901 sworn and 228 professional (non-sworn) staff.2 The department is led by a chief of police appointed by the mayor and city council and is organized into four bureaus: investigative services, patrol services, administrative support, and analysis, engagement, and oversight.3

Tucson has long been familiar with key concepts found in the Presidents Task Force on 21st Century Policing (21CPTF) Report. In 2015, then-Chief Roberto Villaseñor served as a member of the 21CPTF. Following Chief Villaseñor’s retirement, city leaders appointed Chief Chris Magnus to lead the department beginning in January 2016.
4 Chief Magnus had also testified before the 21CPTF in 2015 on best practice models of community policing while serving as police chief for Richmond, California. As the NPF assessment team conducted interviews with TPD members in late 2020, many were already familiar with the Report, having studied it as part of their promotional examinations. Additionally, the department’s website mentions that it has ‘put in place recommendations laid out by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.5

Under Chief Magnus, over the last five years, the TPD has expanded its implementation of 21CPTF concepts, incorporating recommendations of the Report into more of their operations and into the culture of the organization. During interviews with the NPF assessment team, members at all levels of the TPD emphasized the value the department places on having every officer be a community policing officer with a role in supporting joint problem solving with the community. Members also described the department’s innovative means of training delivery and commitment to officer wellness. The TPD has also had strong city support to pursue advancements; in 2017, Tucson voters passed a proposition that increased the sales tax by an additional half percent for five years to provide funding for public safety and road improvements.
6 This public support enabled critical improvements to police equipment and technology that—along with city support and department leadership—have facilitated the TPD’s ongoing transformation into a 21st century policing agency.

1. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/tucsoncityarizona
2. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/tables/table-78/table-78-state-cuts/arizona.xls
3. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/police/OrgChart_10232020.pdf
4. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/police/chief-police-chris-magnus
5. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/police
6. https://ballotpedia.org/Tucson,_Arizona,_Sales_Tax_Increase_for_Public_Safety_and_Road_Improvements_Amendment,_Proposition_101_(May_2017)

Pillar 1

Building Trust & Legitimacy

TPD members throughout the department acknowledged the importance of building trust and legitimacy with the community, including through enhanced transparency and relationship building. Several pointed to a recently released public dashboard that provides data to the community on Tucson policing, including details on use of force incidents, arrests, and traffic enforcement.7

With the public dasbhoard release, the TPD acknowledged that the data shows the department has used force against Black people four times the rate of white people—an “unacceptable” disparity that Chief Magnus shared that the TPD is continuing to analyze and is committed to addressing.8 Several TPD members also highlighted department leaders’ emphasis on building relationships and trust throughout the department and with the community. One member described how command staff have sought to explain the “why” behind changes when changes are implemented. Others described open dialogue collaboration between members despite differing viewpoints on issues. These practices are key to internal procedural justice and culture change over time.9

The TPD’s efforts to build trust with their community have not always gone smoothly. In April 2020, Carlos Ingram-Lopez died in police custody, sparking anger in the city over how the incid
ent was handled and prompting Chief Magnus to offer to resign. However, city leaders endorsed Chief Magnus’s leadership in continuing to improve the department and strengthen local police-community relations.10 The controversy ultimately led the city and department to implement new measures that further enhanced the role of community members in reviewing department policy and training. Most recently, Tucson convened a multi-stakeholder Sentinel Event Review Board (SERB) to review critical incidents with a focus on strengthening the policing system and preventing future negative outcomes, not on placing fault or blame.11 The TPD’s first completed SERB report reviewed the in-custody deaths of Damien Alvarado and Carlos Ingram-Lopez and led to several quick changes in department policy, procedures, and training.

7. https://policeanalysis.tucsonaz.gov/
 8. https://news.azpm.org/p/news-splash/2020/9/18/180411-seeking-to-increase-transparency-tpd-releases-data-showing-disproportionate-use-of-force-against-black-people/
9. https://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/04-2015/a_new_procedural_justice_course.asp
10. https://news.azpm.org/p/news-articles/2020/6/25/175461-tucson-mayor-romero-police-chief-magnus-shouldnt-resign/
11. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/police/critical-incident-review/sentinel-event-review-board-serb

Pillar 2

Policy & Oversight

Tucson’s Independent Police Auditor was established as an external body to audit citizen complaint investigations conducted by the TPD’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS).12 During his tenure, Chief Magnus expanded this access from external complaints to also enable the civilian auditor to review internal and administrative complaints, “so anything that goes through OPS could have community eyes on it.”13 In addition to unredacted access, the civilian auditor meets regularly with the chief and OPS personnel. This has supported strong working relationships and the TPD’s pursuit of establishing community trust and legitimacy through accountability.

From the SERB and role of civilian auditor to force review boards and training scenarios, Tucson provides myriad opportunities for community members to provide direct input on the ongoing development of TPD policy and training. Several TPD interviewees described how these opportunities emerged and grew step-by-step over the last six years. Early forms of SERB were comprised mainly of department members and focused more on discipline. In spite of some resistance along the way, leadership made gradual changes including diversifying reviewers to include community members as well as the police union; changing the timeline for review to begin only once discipline proceedings concluded; and, increasing transparency of the reviews such as by naming involved officers. Similarly, force review boards, designed to examine TPD officer involved shootings, have grown over recent years to incorporate both community and key department members and identify issues in areas such as policy, training, supervision, and incident command. Through these processes, TPD members are able to learn from community members’ perceptions of police activities, prompting them to agilely adjust policy and training as necessary, while sharing their procedures with community members as one means to establish trust through transparency.

12. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/manager/independent-police-auditor-civilian-investigator
13. NPF assessment team interview with Tucson city employee, November 16, 2020.

Pillar 3

Technology & Media

The TPD has made several advancements in equipment and technology over recent years, particularly with the support of the 2017 sales tax proposition. The TPD continues to identify areas of improvement. The TPD has been able to invest in department issued cell phones, improved patrol cars and laptops, a more accessible records management system, and new training delivery platforms. Some interviewees described a culture of embracing technology and continually looking to improve, that has helped propel TPD’s technology adoption. One member also described the importance of modernizing technology to support efficiency and communication, particularly as the department struggles with decreased staffing levels, but still seeks to provide officers time for community engagement activities.

Like many large police departments across the country, the TPD has also adopted body worn cameras (BWCs) in recent years as a tool to improve community trust, transparency, accountability, and officer safety.
14  One TPD member described appreciating the BWCs for helping to clear false complaints. Another described the footage as helpful to inform training scenarios based on real incidents. In addition, following criticism, the TPD has established a process where they will release BWC footage following in-custody deaths within 72 hours of the incident. Some members reported they believe this process helps the TPD to establish a trusted timeline, be transparent, and still provide their public information office time to provide important contextual information around its release.

14. https://bja.ojp.gov/program/bwc/topics/research#faq-how-can-law-enforcement-agencies-benefit-from-a

Pillar 4

Community Policing & Crime Reduction

TPD members at all levels of the organization interviewed by the NPF assessment team described a permeating understanding of community policing as a philosophy. Moving away from a “checkbox” mentality, where officers might participate in limited community projects or attend occasional community meetings, TPD members report an emphasis on establishing and maintaining relationships with community members. Several described the importance of building trust and engaging in partnerships with community stakeholders to reduce and prevent crime. Many also described that community policing at TPD is not confined to a specific unit or even the patrol bureau. Department leadership is continuing to develop opportunities for community members to provide input on investigative priorities and participate in training for department members.

Pillar 5

Training & Education

Training is a priority within the TPD and seen as vital for professional service delivery as well as officer safety. In addition, TPD has also expanded the role of community members by enlisting volunteers to engage in scenario-based training within the department. Many interviewees emphasized the prioritization of training within the TPD, seen as vital for professional service delivery as well as officer safety and wellness. In recent years, the TPD has introduced innovative means of training delivery to respond to training needs. Around 2017, the TPD began converting their training program to a digital platform so trainees would be able to access lesson plans, presentations, and testing online. In addition to supporting training operations even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform enables TPD and other officers attending their regional academy to retain access to class information. The TPD also has a virtual reality simulator in use for training officers and for sharing the experience of responding to a scenario with community members.

In 2019, the TPD also began to conduct “road show” trainings, which involve 30–45-minute briefing or scenario-based trainings that are conducted at each precinct for each squad. Road show topics rotate each month and are largely informed by community concerns, policy changes, critical incidents, or other nationally emerging topics. Adult learning theories encourage centering learning environments on the student, such as through group discussions and problem-solving activities using real world case studies, rather than on the instructor such as through lecture-based instruction.15  By bringing the rotating training to officers on an ongoing basis, TPD leaders hope the training is relevant and digestible for members, while being efficient with officers’ time.

The TPD has also expanded the role of community members in training. Over recent years, one TPD member reported they have enlisted approximately 100 community volunteers to participate in scenario-based training in the police academy and in-service training. Community members are able to provide real-time feedback to officers on their performance, including insights regarding communication and tone that peers might be less likely to identify. Conversely, community participants are able to experience the TPD’s extensive training and meet officers in an educational setting. In another recent training, the TPD invited community members to share their perspectives directly with officers as part of a cultural sensitivity training. By including community perspectives in training, TPD leaders aim to enrich their existing training.

15. Mugford, R. S. Corey, and C. Bennell. (2013). Improving police training from a cognitive load perspective. Policing, 36(2): 312-337.

Pillar 6

Officer Wellness & Safety

For years the TPD has cultivated officer safety and wellness offerings, and they have continued to grow over the last five years. Recognized nationally by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the TPD’s behavioral science unit (BSU) provides several services for the overall health and well-being of sworn and professional staff and their family members. BSU has provided counseling services, referrals, and peer support, and have organized police family events. As police suicides have increased across the country, in 2020 the TPD held trainings around mental health and suicide prevention, with a command staff member attending each class to reinforce the value leadership places on employee wellbeing.


Challenges & Next Steps for Policing 


Recruitment, Training Standards, and Community Investment

During interviews, TPD members reflected on a variety of challenges for policing: recruitment, training, implementation cost, and the community investment. Many TPD members underscored challenges with recruitment—including at the TPD—where recruitment struggles to keep pace with attrition and the national narrative around law enforcement is generally negative. As members of a department with relatively high standards for training, some expressed a desire for higher national standards for training, use of force, and sworn qualifications. One highlighted the challenge some departments likely have implementing recommendations that come with high price tags, and the importance of community investment in pursuing these changes in partnership with the police. Some commented on the challenges figuring out the role of police in partnership with other organizations to address social services, and the role of professional (non-sworn) staff in policing organizations.

Continued Improvement

Officer Safety and Wellness Programming and Community Outreach

The TPD exemplifies an agency that has adopted the philosophy of community policing into its overall culture, through the efforts of department leaders and with support from city officials and the community. As part of their efforts to continue to improve the organization over time, the TPD continues to examine internal processes and make improvements, building on 21CPTF concepts along the way. Throughout interviews with the NPF assessment team, TPD members identified areas where they hope to continue to improve within TPD, such as additional officer safety and wellness programming and more proactive community outreach to historically marginalized communities. At the same time, many commented with pride on advancements that have been made in recent years to continue to enhance training and establish trust with their community.

Cover Photo Source: Arizona Police Department Facebook