The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
When it was reported that the city of Tucson had a webpage in place called the COVID-19 Social Distancing Online Reporting Form, known on the street as the “Narc on Your Neighbor” form, you could almost feel a collective sigh of disappointment across our community.
Why, with all the care and selfless work on behalf of others we have been witnessing, would the Tucson concoct a program that seems to promote conflict and divisive behavior? Well, maybe it didn’t start with the city.
After being grumpy about the whole thing for a couple of days, I decided to call someone in the city and get some questions answered. I was able to speak with Andy Squire, public information officer for the city manager. I asked him what inspired or compelled the city to create this thing.
Squire explained that every telephone from the mayor’s office to the council offices, and most significantly the 911 emergency line, was being deluged with complaints from the citizenry regarding social distancing non-compliance.
“We were receiving a significant number of calls both 911 and the non-emergency police number, council offices, pretty much any number they could find they were calling in, concerned, and pretty fearful,” Squire said.
Now, forget the mayor and council for a moment, a 911 line choked up with non-emergency traffic is a public safety problem that needed fixing. The Tucson Police Department’s Emergency Operations Staff Manager’s Office went to work.
“It was a strictly utilitarian decision,” Squire said. He went on to say that the primary goal was to “... relieve pressure on those systems because our emergency response systems are for real emergencies,” and also to “make sure we were capturing the calls, acknowledging them, sending a response if they were hurt, and going from there.”
There was much confusion and concern on the part of the public when the orders from the governor and the mayor were first announced.
Calls came from businesses who closed, but saw others remain open.
These were typically gyms and some restaurants.
Many elderly people were having trouble buying food since grocery stores were initially not enforcing social distancing and their hours were changing. Now those stores have social distancing procedures and hours designated for seniors only.
I asked Squire how enforcement, if any, was administered. He said, “The most we should do at this time ... is to go out and educate. If people were not willing to comply with the guidance through the education process, they would be issued a warning, then the worst thing at this point would be the issuing of a misdemeanor citation.”
I asked if other municipalities had similar programs in place. Squire said that Phoenix had one and there were reports of other cities around the country having them, but he said they were not investigating what other cities were doing in this regard.
We should always be on the lookout for those who would take advantage of states of emergency, using the cover of chaos to advance their own interests. Rahm Emanuel recently repeated his 2008 admonition to, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
It can also be argued that formal emergency declarations do not, in fact, supersede constitutional guarantees, even temporarily.
Either way, it seems to me that the city’s actions were neither ill-conceived, nor nefarious in motive with regard to the so-called “Narc on Your Neighbor” form. Rather, it sought to repair the emergency services system while continuing to serve those calling for help.
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