“Prevention. Intervention. Enforcement.” These are the three pillars of one man’s career.
Now, after 30 years with the Mesa Police Department – the past two as chief – Chief John Meza is retiring on Dec. 22.
Meza, 50, started with the department just two years after graduating from Cortez High School in Phoenix at the age of 20. He was well known in Mesa during the 1990s for his work with street gangs and battling the crack epidemic as a gang detective.
“As a young officer I was founder of the gang unit, which promoted prevention and intervention,” Meza said. “I was the ‘Red Ribbon Rapper’ in the ’90s and wrote songs and would go to the schools and sing.”
It’s clear that his years working with youth and gangs shaped his career and is something Meza is very proud to share. It’s where he gained his since of the importance of community engagement as he worked with students and parents throughout the ’90s.
“I helped kids out through education and I’m proud of that,” he said, adding that the streets of Mesa made him what he is today and he’s proud of his community.
Meza worked his way through the department becoming a commander and serving as assistant police chief for eight years before becoming chief.
“I’ve been blessed,” Meza said. “I never dreamed I’d be the chief, but I’ve had great mentors here in Mesa who pushed me to get my education and keep achieving the goals I set for myself.
“I’m the product of this community,” he continued. “I’ve spent over half my life here serving Mesa. A chief can’t succeed by themselves, you have to have a good staff and I have had that here in Mesa. It’s a special community.”
Meza says the thing he’s most proud of serving as chief is the community engagement efforts and employee wellness programs the Mesa Police Department has developed.
“We’ve had strong community outreach the last two years and that’s important because the community has to believe we are sincere and know the people who work here are sincere,” Meza said. “You have to have a relationship with the community you serve to have their support. We have that here in Mesa, even more now than I’ve seen before.”
Meza says there’s an underlying reason that needs to be addressed on why police are being targeted throughout the nation right now.
“It’s always been a dangerous job but we weren’t seen as enemies in the past, but as referees,” he said. “Today, we see more of a crime focus against police officers so it raises the safety factor. We need to concentrate on how to make our officers safe, whether that’s two-officer vehicles, tactics, training, we need to continue officer education.”
Other things to focus on is officer safety, Meza said. From training to proper (updated) equipment to strategies and how officers simply sit in their patrol cars.
His advice for the next chief is to continue that community engagement and crime fighting strategies “because building that relationship with the community changes the culture on how we’re seen.”
Meza has three things for the next chief to consider: continue the community engagement and employee wellness he’s put in place, take care of the department’s employees so they can be the best they can be in the community, and continue focusing on crime fighting.
He will remain president of the Community Bridges Incorporated Board and has been appointed to serve on the National Tactical Officers Association Board of Directors as well as continuing his work with the Arizona Human Trafficking Council.
“I’ll still be around,” Meza said. “Mesa is a small city that grew into a big city – a great community where everyone works together – and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”
Mesa City Manager Chris Brady says an interim police chief will be named in the next week or two and the city will begin the selection process in January for a new chief of police.
“Chief Meza has done a wonderful job and has met all our expectations,” Brady said. “He’s well respected in the community and we want to continue to build on that. His service to Mesa has been well received and has made it a better place.”
Brady said the city is using a head hunter who’s done recruitments for police chiefs all over the nation.
“We’ll engage in a national search and I’ve asked for a diverse pool of candidates to be considered and that will start in early January,” Brady said.
“I have faith in the system and the city management team, they know the values of what we need today. Mesa has great leaders with the right focus and vision,” Meza added.
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.