You can’t blame Mayor Jonathan Rothschild for downplaying his carjacking last Saturday.
No mayor wants to portray his own city as violent or crime-ridden. And that particular incident, in which an armed man demanded the mayor’s car outside his home, has the potential for extreme municipal embarrassment.
“It was not scary,” he told my colleague Norma Coile that day. “It was so quick and, I hate to say this, but so businesslike.”
Rothschild made sure people understood that it was like nothing he’s experienced in his 61 years of life in the Old Pueblo.
“I’ve lived in the city for a very long time and I’ve never been a victim of any serious crime,” he said.
Fair enough: I’m sure what he says is true. But longtime Tucsonans know the operative word in that sentence was not “never” — it was “serious.” That’s what really tells the story of crime in Tucson: Constant annoying, costly and potentially dangerous but ultimately non-serious crime.
Here’s a story from my own midtown neighborhood. In the last six months, we’ve had our cars rifled through two or three times on nights when we accidentally left the doors unlocked. We didn’t lose anything valuable and never considered reporting it to the police.
Everyone knows that’s just a feature of life in Tucson. Along with the glorious sun and mountains, Tucsonans get addicts and ne’er-do-wells trying to take whatever’s not tied down.
Then Tuesday afternoon, about 4:30, I was sitting in the home of my tenant and friend who lives in our guest house, Leah Lensink. She heard her gate open, and went outside to see a strange man standing there. She asked what he wanted, and he apologized and said he was at the wrong house.
She came back in and told me he looked like a “crackhead.” Typical. We went on with our conversation.
Within about five minutes, I saw my neighbor Amy Cormode dashing toward her house nearby and, simultaneously, saw a friend who plays soccer at the nearby park peeling out as he drove up the street. It turns out the same man had walked around the corner, saw an unlocked bike on a rack attached to the Cormodes’ car, grabbed it and rode off.
Several soccer players jumped in their cars and chased him, but he had a head start. They lost him in a nearby apartment complex.
My neighbor Amy wasn’t sure what to do. I had to persuade her to call the police. The stolen-bicycle call was not a priority, of course, and she received an apologetic call later from an officer saying they hadn’t been able to make it over yet, and that maybe she’d like to make a report online.
So she started that process, and she almost finished, but then she got hung up trying to find a serial number for the bike and gave up. When I asked her Friday if she’d made a report yet, she said she hadn’t finished but was determined to get it done still. The pawnshops she called were not interested in hearing the description of the stolen bicycle, insisting they check pawned property against a list of stolen property provided by police.
That list, of course, is only as complete as the reports that crime victims bother to make.
Anyone who’s lived in the city of Tucson for long knows this is common. A property crime happens, and the victim may consider it too insignificant to report. Or, if they do try to report it, the police have too many higher-priority calls to respond. That puts the onus on the victim to make the online report, which may never happen. Maybe they don’t have internet service. Maybe they run into an obstacle, as Amy did. Maybe it just seems pointless.
Despite the many cases that go unreported, Tucson still has very high numbers of reported property crimes. The latest FBI reports show a total of 15,773 property-crime reports in the period January-June 2016. That was higher than cities such as Oakland and San Diego, higher than Denver. Albuquerque was the only comparable city in the region with more property crimes in that period.
It’s disappointing, but something longtime residents have become resigned to.
When I caught up with him Friday, Rothschild explained that he had never been a victim of any crime he could remember, though his wife’s bike was stolen once. Now that he’s mayor, Rothschild has personal security from the police as needs require. It wasn’t deemed necessary that particular Saturday morning.
The rest of us, of course, are left to our own devices when it comes to securing ourselves and our property. But Rothschild pointed out that we have a proposal for a half-cent sales-tax increase coming up on the ballot in May, and $150 million of the revenue projected over the five-year life of the tax increase would go to public safety.
It’s tempting, and yes, I’ll probably vote for it. But it’s hard to believe it will fix the problems that make non-serious crime such an annoying and persistent part of life in Tucson.