Ineffective and Inequitable: Arrest Deflection Program, Pima County, AZ

Contact: No Jail Deaths Coalition | | NoJailDeaths.Com

On August 18, the Tucson Police Department (TPD) and Crisis Response Center (CRC) held a panel discussion regarding TPD’s program to deflect people during police interactions to the crisis center instead of bringing them to jail.

The city and police are quick to pat themselves on the back for their supposedly progressive program, but the reality of the situation shows that it is neither effective in protecting vulnerable people from police violence, nor is it equitably used.

The truth is, their program isn’t working.

The Tucson Police Department has shown a pattern of causing harm, arresting, and killing individuals with a mental illness. Currently, about SIXTY PERCENT of those incarcerated in the Pima County Jail are living with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.

The Tucson Police Department Mental Health Support Team (MHST), which was developed in January 2014, brags that they receive 40 hours of crisis intervention plus some additional mental health aid trainings for the Tucson police and Pima County Sheriff’s Department. Actual mental health first responders and service providers go to school for years to develop skills and techniques to work with individuals with serious mental illnesses. Allowing fully armed officers to intervene in mental health crises after a few weeks of training is irresponsible and dangerous.

Since the beginning of the MHST team in 2014, the Tucson Police Department has murdered 43 individuals in our community, while the Sheriff’s Department has murdered an additional 13. Of those 56 people, at least 16 had a known mental illness and/or substance use disorders. At least 3 of these deaths occurred during mental health/wellness checks, including the death of Carlos Ingram Lopez. TPD officers suffocated Carlos by kneeling on his back for over 12 minutes.

This year alone, 5 people with a known mental illness were murdered by TPD and the Sheriffs. Of the 56 murders, ZERO officers have been charged with any crime. Additionally, since 2014 at least 28 people have died in the Pima County Jail–15 of whom have died since January 2021. Law enforcement agencies are the only agencies that can murder people with impunity; they not only receive no repercussions but can then praise themselves for their work in the community and progressive policies.

Additionally, a recent impact report by Justice System Partners on the crisis center and TPD crisis intervention program shows that of the individuals deflected to the crisis center instead of jail a staggering 68% are White, while only 8% of those deflected were Black, 4% were Latinx, 2% were bi-racial, 1% were Asian and 12.5% were listed as another race. Between 2013 and 2021 the Tucson Police Department killed Black individuals at a rate 3.6 times higher than they killed White individuals, and killed Latinx individuals at a 1.2 times higher rate. These statistics demonstrate glaringly obvious racism within the Tucson Police Department.

We are a coalition of family members, friends, and loved ones of individuals who have lost their lives in the Pima County Jail and their supporters as well as direct service providers, including social workers and legal defenders who work with people living with mental illnesses in our community. We know that many individuals receive little support or ongoing services from the Crisis Response Center and are consistently harassed, abused, and arrested by the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Jail. We have seen it with our own eyes over and over.

While deflection programs may reduce some arrests, this does not provide any long-term solution or guarantee that the individual will not just be arrested in the near future after being released with no continuing support. Instead of investing money and resources into band-aid solutions that center police as a person’s primary means of receiving services, the city must invest in real, long-term solutions and center people without relying upon the police. People with mental illnesses need ongoing supportive services, not a revolving door of emergency care at the crisis center.

The Justice System Partners report says that of the individuals who present at the crisis center, 58.8% are released in under ten hours. While the crisis center claims that resources are provided to those individuals, one social worker we spoke with said that her clients are often not admitted when seeking emergency help or are released the following morning with no additional resources or follow-up care.

Interestingly, the Justice System Partners report does not provide any interviews or quotes from individuals who were actually deflected to the crisis center, only interviews from TPD officers claiming that their program is successful.

As evidenced by the amount of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders currently incarcerated in the Pima County Jail, and the number of people in our community killed by TPD and the Sheriff’s Department, it is clear that law enforcement is not serving to protect our community members with mental illnesses. Cops out of Crisis. Defund TPD. Shut down the Pima County Jail. INVEST in our communities.

Impact Report: Examining The Impacts of Arrest Deflection Strategies on Jail Reduction Efforts – Pima County, AZ

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