On June 8, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady and members of the Mesa City Council showed off Ramon Batista, Mesa’s new police chief.
Let’s hope this chief sticks around for a little while.
Batista is Mesa’s 10th permanent police chief in the last 30-plus years. Along with the 10 permanent chiefs, there has been a long list of interim chiefs who served for months on end. Based on averages, chiefs in Mesa stick around for a couple of years and then they’re gone.
A longtime Mesa officer called and asked me, “Do you think the new chief will stick around or use Mesa like a stepping-stone?”
That’s a legitimate question.
Considering the transitory nature of Mesa’s chief under the Brady regime it’s no wonder that police employees are ready to question the legitimacy of the new chief and how he will impact them, and the community.
During the brief introduction, Batista spoke about community trust and that’s good. In reality, community trust of the police is pretty good across the board and the overwhelming majority of Mesa residents will never have direct contact with officers. Even fewer will ever meet the chief or even know Mesa has a new one.
The treatment of citizens by City Hall and other city departments they depend on daily can have a huge influence on the trust of government in a community. Water, sewage, streets and sanitation are the things most citizens count on from city government. Cops just happen to be the most visible and accessible examples of government.
So, building community trust starts with Brady, Mayor John Giles and the City Council. The police are an extension of them and not vice versa. Community trust starts at City Hall.
Brady needs to design a plan to build community trust while Batista needs to focus on building trust within the Mesa Police Department.
Officers and civilian staff have been down this road before. They get a new chief, there are great speeches, plenty of handshakes and promises, but then it all goes away when the latest new guy finds a new or better job and its musical chairs all over again in the chief’s office.
The continual movement of chiefs has had a negative impact on Mesa’s policing product. While Mesa PD is a pretty good department and has accomplished more than most, the lack of long-term stability in the chief’s office has kept Mesa from achieving new levels of success in providing law enforcement and community engagement services to Mesa residents and businesses.
Mesa PD’s workforce needs reassurance from Batista that he’s in for the long haul and isn’t using Mesa as a stepping-stone. No doubt there will be efforts to recruit him. His qualifications and experience at Tucson PD are first-class. Becoming chief in Mesa will only add to his resume and increase his opportunities to leave for more money and greener pastures.
Batista has an opportunity to take one of the best police departments in America to a level of excellence most agencies can only dream.
Let’s hope that’s enough to keep him around and for the mayor and City Council to support long-term efforts to get the Mesa Police Department to the next level where it needs to be.
But based on history, Batista will be long gone before the next presidential election.
– Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.