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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 | Last updated: 4:58pm

Tucson Modern Streetcar: safe or sorry?



Love it or hate it, the Tucson Modern Streetcar is here and ready to carry passengers on July 25. Now the city needs to protect its investment by ensuring the safety of the projected influx of shoppers, diners, students and tourists.

In hopes of creating economic growth, the city of Tucson has chosen to focus on the downtown and university areas. By spending heavily on the construction of the streetcar project, the city is banking on creating a stimulus for the area that will attract businesses and customers into the downtown area.

The city has invested $198.8 million, $129.8 million local and $69 million federal funds, into the 3.9 mile route according to the financial reporting on the Sun Link website.

However, this flood of people that are projected to bring new business and money into the area may find themselves falling victim to local crime. The total number of crimes reported to the Tucson Police Department was on a decline from 1997 to 2011, but since then crime has slowly been on the rise.

During a 30 day period, ending on Thursday, around 142 incidents of crime along the streetcar line, especially along the Stone Avenue to Eighth Street stretch, were reported to the police department. This included 29 assaults, 28 thefts, three sexual offenses and one robbery, according to the TPD’s website.
If the city is going to make this project a success, then the people attracted to the area will need to know they are safe shopping and dining downtown. As more people come into the area, crime can be expected to continue and may even rise unless the city takes measures to curtail the incidents as much as possible.

One way to reduce criminal incidents would be for the city to hire more police officers and increase the presence of uniformed officers along the streetcar route, which would deter crimes of opportunity and keep disorderly conduct by people who spill out of the bars in check. It would also create faster response times to crimes in the area when police assistance is needed.

Loitering is a common crime-related problem in downtown, especially around the Ronstadt Transit Center and surrounding streets. One potential idea is moving the bus stop out of the area, but that would inconvenience the majority of the people on the buses who are trying to get to and from work.

A more specific solution would be for the police department to create a transit unit with the sole task of patrolling the streetcar, the buses and the public transit stops. With a constant police presence in these key places, it would create a more comfortable environment for businesses, employees and potential customers.

Obviously more police means a bigger financial burden on the city. No one would want to lose the current police protection in their neighborhoods to keep shoppers downtown safe.
However, downtown and Fourth Avenue already have police officers that focus on the area. A small city sales tax, as unpopular as it may be, would help fund a few more officers.

In addition, since the area is located near other areas of the city that would benefit from increased police presence, officers would be close by should there be an emergency.

If people can move freely around the area without the fear of having their cars broken into, bikes or possessions stolen and not having to worry about being assaulted, then the hopes of continuing to attract more people and tourists into the area can become a reality.

Jorge Encinas is a junior studying journalism. Follow him @DailyWildcat.


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