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Richardson: Mesa PD has right to brag, keeps crime low

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Bill Richardson

The latest crime numbers are out from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and once again Mesa shows the world a city of a half-million residents and tens and tens of thousands of commuters and visitors can be safe. http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/southwest-valley/2017/08/31/crime-statistics-buckeye-gilbert-safest-valley-cities-phoenix-glendale-had-most-crime/602695001/.

Based on reported serious felony crimes in 2016 Mesa had 28 crimes per 1,000 residents. Crime in Chandler and Scottsdale is slightly lower.

That’s pretty good if you ask me, especially when you compare it to 59 per 1,000 in Glendale and 51 per 1,000 in Tempe. Two cities that consistently lead the state in serious crime and one that shares a 10-mile border with Mesa along with seven major arterial streets, plus the light rail.

Phoenix had 45 serious felony crimes per 1,000 residents.

So how did Mesa get to this enviable position of going from a city where serious felony crime was once at 99 per 1,000, in the early ‘80s to a quarter of that now?

I doubt if there’s a single answer.

Is there still a subtle influence from the stability and character of Mesa’s LDS founders and past and present city leadership?

What about Mesa’s early-on diversity in policing? Long before it was a point to boast about, Mesa had a chief, Ramon Mendoza, who was Mexican-American along with another who was a woman, Jan Strauss. Major firsts in the world of policing for what was then a fairly large municipal police force.

Long before it was fashionable Mesa PD actively recruited experienced police officers from other jurisdictions. In the late ‘70s when Mesa was growing like a well-watered weed then Chief Joe Quigley, a true visionary, initiated a program to search out and hire officers with experience to meet Mesa’s demands for cops on the street. He also recruited Bruce Reynolds out of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to start a strategic planning unit. It worked and crime started to drop. Many of those recruited became ranking command officers and two were promoted to police chief.

Not only did the experienced bodies fill patrol cars, they brought new ideas and experiences into the business of policing that has, and still can be, stagnant and inbred.

It’s no surprise when I see Mesa continue to do things that other agencies don’t or only embrace reluctantly years later. Mesa PD’s pro-active approach to sex crimes and crimes against children has become a national model thanks in large part to Strauss, a one-time sex crimes detective.

When the state crime lab continually failed to meet its statutory duties to support local law enforcement Mesa PD recruited the best scientists available to start its own crime lab. Today, the lab is the envy of the country and plays a big part in Mesa’s crime rate being so low.

Mesa also does a better job than most when it comes to solving crimes and catching crooks.

Mesa’s willingness not to stick with the status quo and the use innovation and technology to protect the community is paying off.

Policing is much about change. Crime and criminals evolve and take advantage of policing climates that are slow to change, can’t or won’t change.

But could Mesa’s success run out? For too many years City Hall has pushed the MPD to do more with less, and they have. But can underfunding and pushing employees to the limit to get results last forever?

While the police chiefs with high crime numbers will pooh-pooh crime the latest stats, Mesa’s force has a right to brag about the job they do so well and how they continue to keep crime low.

– Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.

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