Tucson police union: Kozachik must apologize for comment

A Tucson police union is demanding an apology from a city councilman who said cops might “just go in and start whacking kneecaps with billy clubs” at a downtown homeless camp.

Councilman Steve Kozachik’s gaffe came at a city council study session Tuesday.

He had just finished remarks asking people to choose their words about homeless people carefully so as not to “perpetuate a stigma that’s unfair.”

“Words are important in how we discuss this,” Kozachik said.

But then he said Tucson police and social-service groups should start meeting about the possible relocation of the so-called Safe Park camp in Viente de Agosto Park “so we’re not just going in a rousting people out but making proactive contacts with the people down there, trying to identify the services that are needed and use the MHST (Mental Health Investigative Support Team) trained law enforcement to go in and try and put them in touch with those services — and not just go in and start whacking kneecaps with billy clubs. That’s key to how this is handled.”

After a private conversation with Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, Kozachik apologized from the dais for his comments.

The Tucson Police Officers Association, with whom Kozachik has a contentious relationship, is calling for a formal written apology from the councilman.

“To be quite frank: It doesn’t matter to us if what Steve said was ‘off the cuff,’ a slip of the tongue, or a facetious remark. Often times, what people say in the heat of the moment tells you a lot about what they really think. It is high time the leadership of our City learn that what they say, and the words they use, have consequences,” TPOA said in a statement Wednesday morning.

Kozachik’s verbal apology was “absolutely not” enough, said Jason Winsky, government affairs director for the Tucson Police Officers Association.

“A council meeting apology is a start but we are looking for a formal letter of apology to the Chief of Police,” he said in an email. “When police officers make mistakes, an apology is never sufficient. Rather the community looks for what will change systemically so that such a mistake never happens again.”