- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The Tucson Police Department has grounded its air unit after an independent audit found it failed to meet basic standards and suffered from a hostile atmosphere.

The unit includes three helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft that are critical to police operations, said acting Chief Mark Timpf. Timpf said the air unit responded to over 3,500 calls and assisted in 2,800 special checks this year alone. It was shuttered on Dec. 24 but will likely be back on air around next weekend, he said.

The report by the Airborne Law Enforcement Association looked into the unit in November after several members complained about a communications problem and a hostile environment, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The auditors said the unit is only 58 percent in compliance with the ALEA standards, placing it at high operational risk.

One of the major issues revolves around the unit’s morale.

“More recently, differences between some of the pilots and the maintenance staff over perceived maintenance safety issues have escalated to a level of hostility as reported by several unit members during interviews; attempts to bring the sides together to air their differences has thus far been non-productive,” the audit states.

Timpf said the department is already addressing those and other issues.

“In these audits they measure us up against a number of standards and they’re very specific standards so when it comes down to it, the ones we were found to be out of compliance with had little to do with what we do,” Timpf said.

Other parts of the audit criticized how the unit identifies safety issues. It found the unit practices only a partial reporting system for unit members to report potential hazards.

The audit didn’t require that the department suspend operations, but it wanted to take the precaution anyway.

“If you’re sitting on a high risk audit you want to fix things before you go on. We’re actually running ahead of schedule,” Timpf said.

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