Pima County constables get body worn cameras and ask for help with caseloads

Pima County constables get body worn cameras and ask for help with caseloads
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Pima County supervisors have appointed a new constable and ordered body-worn cameras for staff in an office facing multiple vacancies and high tensions following the fatal August shooting of Constable Deborah Martinez -Garibay.

The newly appointed Constable will serve Court Precinct 10 in the northwest region of the county and assume the position of serving legal summonses such as eviction notices and court protective orders.

The council on Tuesday delayed a vote to appoint two new assistant constables and also delayed consideration of constables’ pay cuts if they do not adopt a cohesive set of principles to operate.

The constable’s office has five vacancies in the county’s most populous court districts serving Pima County Consolidated Court of Justice paperwork, leaving the work of eight precincts in the hands of three constables.

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One of those vacancies is left by Martinez-Garibay, who died Aug. 25 after serving an eviction at a North Side apartment complex. Apartment manager Angela Fox-Heath and nearby passerby Elijah Miranda were also shot and killed after the constable tried to evict Gavin Lee Stansell, who turned the gun on him after killing three other people.

Presiding Constable Bill Lake asked the board to approve ordering body-worn cameras and new Tasers for each constable at a cost of $10,500 for the remainder of the fiscal year and a total cost of $78,250 that the county will pay on a 60 month lease. . Lake said the cameras will not only help keep an accurate record of constables’ encounters with the public, but are more needed after the August shooting.

“If (Garibay-Martinez) was wearing a body camera, we would have had a focused view of what really happened,” he said. “It helps with the liability issues for the county, with the liability issues for the constable’s office, and with reassurance for the citizens, because obviously if we get checked in, we’re going to be on our best behavior as well. ”

Purchasing body-worn cameras also comes with new Tasers that will activate the cameras when used. Some constables have county-issued Tasers, but the new purchase will ensure all constables have access to a “less than lethal option” to protect themselves, Lake said.

The board also named Anton Chism Sr., the owner of local sign-making company Innovative Signs, to carry out the term of former Constable Michael Stevenson, who announced his resignation in October. The mandate ends in 2024.

Constituency 5 Constable Bill Lake

Lake said Chism has already started training and is confident in his ability for the job.

Heavy workloads weigh down the office

The combined number of documents served by the three constables working outside of consolidated courts increased by more than 45% from August to October, according to data from the constables office. In October, Lake, Bennett Bernal and George Camacho served 63, 154 and 104 items respectively.

Constable Oscar Vasquez recently returned from sick leave, but is away again after being exposed to COVID. Constables Jose Gonzalez and Thomas Schenek continue to work in the Ajo and Green Valley Courts of Justice, which operate separately from the Consolidated Courts of Justice.

Constables Stevenson and John Dorer resigned, and Constable Esther Gonzalez, a close friend of Martinez-Garibay who expressed concern about the lack of security for constables after the shooting, did not report to work or has been submitting a resignation letter since August. Lake said she was still being paid by the county, but the process to have her removed would take longer than her December 31 term expiration.

The composition of the office will change considerably in January. Francisco Lopez was elected to take over Gonzalez’s position in Justice Precinct 2. The council voted last year to disband Justice Precinct 5 in Tucson’s East Side, where Lake currently presides. The Presiding Constable will take over Garibay-Martinez’s former position in Justice Precinct 8, while the council has yet to appoint someone to take over Dorer’s position in Justice Precinct 1.

To help with the growing workload, Lake had asked constables to consider hiring two assistant constables at its Tuesday meeting, but the constable was ill and unable to defend the action before the board. The board will review the hiring at its December 6 meeting.

Deputy constables would be state-certified law enforcement officers who would work in tandem with other constables serving newspapers throughout the region. The hiring would not only help constables’ workloads, Lake said, but provide a backup when constables find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

The two assistant constables would start with annual salaries of $55,000 each for an estimated total cost of $132,700 with benefits and new equipment.

Officer Bernal supports the hiring of deputy officers because elected officers currently have to wait for backup from the Tucson police or Pima County Sheriff’s Departments when addressing potentially dangerous situations.

“If you look at the sheriff’s office, TPD, their philosophy is power by numbers. They are not just bringing an officer, but everything to improve the situation,” he said. “Bringing an assistant police officer makes us safer…when you walk into a building or an apartment, you at least have someone supporting you.”

Officer Camacho also supports the hiring of assistant police officers, as “law enforcement agencies in the area are stretched thin.”

Supervisor Steve Christy expressed support for the new positions after speaking with Lake because the constable office is “understaffed and understaffed,” he said Tuesday. Supervisor Adelita Grijalva asked for more information on the number of documents served by judicial district and to speak with Lake at a council meeting before voting on the expenses.

Salary problem

The board also considered a recommendation by County Administrator Jan Lesher to cut constables’ salaries to $48,294, the lowest allowed by state law, if they don’t agree to a consistent set of principles. . The board delayed voting on the item to allow for legal advice, but Lesher said she overruled the recommendation after speaking with Lake.

A report released by the county in September last year found that constables take different approaches to their work, resulting in disparate results for those they serve. Former deputy county administrator Mark Napier, the former sheriff who has since retired from his county administration position, authored the report which called the constables a ‘fractured group’ with varying workloads which translates to the same annual salary of $67,000.

Lesher’s recommendations for guiding principles include developing evenly distributed caseloads, maintaining consistent approaches to evictions, and distributing a “standard set of information” that lists the number of documents served and days worked for each agent. Constable salaries can only be changed by the council during election cycles, so the next opportunity to apply the principles through pay cuts is January 2025.

Lake said constables approach the job differently due to the varying demographics of the precincts they serve, and constables presiding over rural areas have longer commutes between stops, which reduces the number of newspapers served. Consolidating workloads could also remove constables from the constituencies in which they are elected.

“I like running my own neighborhood. I have a great relationship with my apartment managers. I have a great relationship with a lot of people in the community,” Camacho said. “I’m not saying I’m against it. whoever does my evictions for me, but I like the way I run my business, and I’m not sure I’d like the way anyone else would.

Bernal, however, said something had to be done about a disproportionate amount of work falling on a few officers.

“It’s time for everyone to carry their weight in this office,” he said. “It shouldn’t even be a discussion, it should just be common sense that constables should help each other.”

The family, friends and colleagues of Pima County Officer Deborah Martinez-Garibay, who was killed Aug. 25 in Tucson, gathered for a funeral mass Thursday morning at St. Augustine’s Cathedral. Video by Jesse Tellez/Arizona Daily Star.

Jesse Tellez

Contact journalist Nicole Ludden at [email protected]


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