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Cop Chop

New city budget shifts police resources downtown, at the expense of neighborhoods.

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Tucson police will shift bike and other patrols from high-stress neighborhoods where their presence has helped cut crime to a downtown that remains relatively quiet.

The controversial move has veteran police grumbling and is causing concern in Ward 3, which includes several neighborhoods that have benefited from increased bike patrols in recent years.

Still, the City Council sat mostly in awe Monday during a review of a proposed deficit-laden $920 million city budget when Police Chief Richard Miranda broached the transfer of power plan with an accelerated and hushed description that was devoid of details.

Just as Kathleen Dunbar, the freshman Ward 3 Republican, began to ask Miranda about siphoning off valuable police resources from neighborhoods that have fought drug dealers and other criminals, the mayor and other council members chimed in with high praise for Miranda. It served to drown out legitimate questions about resources and crime-fighting strategies to be deployed by the $113 million, 1,354-person police department.

Dunbar and her staff have sought to bolster the anti-crime work initiated by neighborhood leaders in Ward 3. She lamented that crime remains a constant threat in her ward and fretted that the transfer of bike patrols and other community policing will eliminate the neighborhoods' gains.

Balboa Heights, Ocotillo-Oracle and Miracle Manor are among the near-northside neighborhoods in Ward 3 that have achieved some success in driving out drug businesses and prostitution. Those victories have been met with praise from neighborhood leaders like Jane Baker in Balboa Heights and Nick Bradley of Ocotillo. Miracle Manor Neighborhood Association President Ed Davenport said the loss of bike patrols undoubtedly will hurt struggling neighborhoods.

A timid council listened Monday without any inclination to get into the budget details. Councilman Steve Leal set the tone when he heaped praise on Miranda for holding the line on spending within his own office. A Democrat who has represented southside Ward 5 since 1989, Leal didn't mention that spending in Miranda's own office exceeded this year's budget and was simply decreased to the previous level.

Republican Mayor Bob Walkup added his own cheerleading, saying that Miranda's headed the best police department in the country. Republican Fred Ronstadt, of midtown Ward 6, moved to top Walkup, saying: "We have the finest police force in the country. I put them up against anybody"--and then told Dunbar that "crime moves."

Miranda conceded that the crime-fighting moves are in response to Rio Nuevo, the city's costly, lagging and murky redevelopment scheme for downtown. Moreover, Miranda said, bike units were never intended as permanent neighborhood patrols.

City Manager James Keene said the police will try to perform with "essentially the same number of people while the community is getting more complex and we've added 10,000 people." Left unsaid was that Miranda's department is nearly $4 million over budget this year, according to city figures.

The shift fits with Walkup's plans to "sanitize" downtown and rid the area of undesirables, be they criminals or simply homeless, according to several veteran police officers who asked for anonymity out of fear that they would lose their jobs. The plan envisions two new police divisions, including one downtown, even though calls there do not justify it, the officers say.

Downtown did not have the highest number of calls last month, for example, according to statistics posted on the city's web site. And the areas containing Balboa Heights, Miracle Manor and Ocotillo-Oracle still have high numbers of calls and lead in the number of calls classified as critical.

While the council allowed Miranda and a host of other department heads off with nothing more than skim-the-surface questions, it did block Keene for the second year from chopping funding to outside agencies that have, despite political turnover, remained protected.

Walkup was eager to jack up funding for what he and Ronstadt repeatedly called "wealth generators." They used the term for their pet agencies, including the Greater Tucson Economic Council, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau and Tucson Pima Arts Council, all of which depend on tax revenues doled out by the city and Pima County.

Under a motion from Ronstad, that directs Keene to find the money, the council kicked GTEC funding from the $486,000 Keene recommended to $600,000; boosted the Convention and Visitors Bureau share by $428,000 to $2.25 million; and hiked the contribution to the Arts Council by $154,000. Over the two-year cycle of projected revenue shortfalls, Keene said those moves will increase the city deficit to $11.6 million.

That shortfall increased later when Leal and Dunbar joined Democrats Shirley Scott and José Ibarra to approve a 3.6-percent raise, retroactive to Feb. 1, for employees in the white-collar Tucson Association of City Employees. The council had previously promised the group a larger increase. The vote was a stern rebuke to Ronstadt, who fought the raise as the council representative to an arbitration panel that backed a larger raise.

Unwilling to dig for detail, council members resorted to a nauseating number of budget cliches. Walkup affixed "wealth generator" to the five-weekend conference of Jehovah's Witnesses even though the city will lose at least $100,000 because of half-rate fees, waived parking and no concessions at the host Tucson Convention Center.

Ronstadt called the Convention Center the city's "red-headed stepchild." He implored the council to "get down to the brass tacks," to "look at the big picture" and to not be "penny-wise and pound-foolish." Keene sought to get the council "on the same page." Dunbar complained the council was "tying Keene's hands." Ibarra noted that he sat quietly until Ronstadt attempted to "pay Peter by robbing Paul."

Vice Mayor Carol West said the city must "practice what I preach."

Finally, Leal, when talking about the power of Raytheon and other big employers to take advantage of federal Empowerment Zones, said help is needed for small business operators who lack the "horsepower" and don't have the same "depth on the bench."

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