DATE: September 11, 2023

Researchers: Survey Reveals How Tucsonans Define ‘Safety’

Data-Driven Nonprofit to Release ‘Reimagining Community Safety’ Report Next Week, Partly Funded by City of Tucson

TUCSON, AZ – As they grapple with homelessness, calls for police accountability, and a contentious plan to build a bigger county jail, Tucson residents are looking to their elected leaders for solutions. But one data-driven nonprofit knows that the best source for solutions to Tucson’s biggest problems is the community itself.

Just Communities Arizona (JCA)—Arizona’s thought leader on community safety and alternatives to incarceration–surveyed more than 1,200 people from each of Tucson’s six wards for answers to a series of questions that collectively ask: What does safety mean to you? The results, published in JCA’s Reimagining Community Safety Survey, will be released tomorrow, September 12.

One key takeaway from the survey: Housing and homelessness are the top concerns for Tucsonans across the board. Twenty-one percent (21%) of all respondents identified homelessness as their primary community concern, and it remained the top concern across demographic backgrounds. When asked where they want resources invested to create greater community safety, affordable housing topped the list, chosen by 52.1 percent of respondents.

“The findings of our survey reflect a deep understanding on the part of Tucsonans that safety is so much more than responding to crime.”

The second most prominent concern cited by respondents was inequality. This reflects not only a consensus among Tucsonans that there is widespread inequality in our community but an acknowledgment that this problem needs to be addressed.

“Tucsonans have a clear understanding that basic needs and equity must be prioritized if we want safer communities,” said JCA Executive Director Caroline Isaacs, who co-produced the report with JCA Policy & Research Manager Rahul Jayaraman. “We all intrinsically know that if you don’t have a roof over your head or enough food to eat, you aren’t safe.”

The survey was funded through a Catalyst grant from The Urban Institute and Microsoft, as well as additional funding from the City of Tucson.

Executive Researcher Rebecca Fealk and eight community-based co-researchers did outreach into all six Tucson wards—from South Tucson to the Catalina Foothills—for nine months through August 2022, conducting both in-person engagement in public spaces, such as parks and in front of grocery stores, and via an online survey portal.

The respondents reflect a diverse mix of Tucsonans, with the median age, reported household income, and racial demographics of respondents mirroring U.S. Census data.

Notably, just 4 percent of respondents identified “crime” as a prominent issue in their community. And only 4 out of the entire 1,206 responses named “public safety” as a top concern. The survey findings suggest that Tucson residents by and large do not view law enforcement as a solution to the problems they face. Only 4% stated that they want “more police” in their communities.

Relatedly, JCA researchers also found that 38 percent of respondents are directly impacted by the punishment system, meaning they or a loved one or family member have a conviction or arrest history.

Five questions within the survey specifically asked about the confidence Tucsonans have in law enforcement and the court system to equitably address issues of race, substance use, and mental health disorders. In all of them, the majority of respondents expressed little to no confidence.

When asked what the City should prioritize to address racial disparities, participants identified the three most important policies as:

  1. community-centered alternatives to incarceration (44%);

  2. more accessible mental health and substance abuse services (39%);

  3. and more affordable housing (36%).

“The findings of our survey reflect a deep understanding on the part of Tucsonans that safety is so much more than responding to crime,” Isaacs said. “People are ready for a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of social problems like substance misuse, mental illness, and unequal access to basic resources.”

To request an embargoed copy to JCA’s Reimagining Community Safety Survey before its release, email


JCA is an Arizona-based nonprofit that works to create, foster, and resource new models for safety and justice outside the punishment system.