Mesa's next police chief will be a Phoenix commander who oversees that city's homeland defense unit and once headed up its major crimes bureau.
Frank Milstead will take the helm after 25 years that include duties ranging from the downtown walking beat to anti-terrorism efforts.
He comes during tough times for the department, as the city is eyeing budget cuts, and Mesa's rival police unions are feuding over an election.
Milstead said the department is in good shape based on his initial interaction with officers in briefings and other settings.
"Mesa is a great-sized police department and a solid police department," Milstead said. "The ability to come here and to take it to the next level was a dream."
His appointment was announced Friday morning after a national search for several months that drew more than 100 applicants. City Manager Chris Brady selected Milstead, whose appointment is expected to be approved Monday by the City Council. He will begin March 22.
Milstead replaces George Gascón, who left in July to become chief in San Francisco. Gascón and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had sparred over the sheriff's immigration and crime suppression sweeps in Mesa, but Milstead said he hasn't had problems in his dealings with Arpaio.
"I don't anticipate any issues," Milstead said.
Representatives of both the city's police unions, the Mesa Police Association and the Fraternal Order of Police Mesa Lodge 9, said Friday that they supported Milstead for chief.
The announcement of a new chief comes in the midst of a high-stakes police union election, known as meet and confer, where one police union will win the right to discuss issues and concerns with the city manager and city council.
"We fully support him and look forward to working with him," said Kurt Scanio, secretary of the MPA. "Right now, we need some strong leadership. Right now, the budget is our biggest concern. And how any cuts could affect our level of service for the citizens."
Bryan Soller, FOP president, echoed Scanio's sentiments.
"We're extremely happy about the choice and excited to work with him," Soller said. "Frank is the best candidate and exactly what the city needs, and we support him. He comes highly recommended. We believe he's going to be good at working with the rank-and-file officers and get officers on the street what they need to do their jobs. Right now, we're in a budget crisis, and I think we're going to have to consolidate some things like our specialty units."
Milstead was one of three finalists for the job, competing with Phoenix Assistant Chief Blake McClelland and Mesa Assistant Chief John Meza.
In Phoenix, Milstead oversees 195 officers as head of the homeland security division, and previously supervised 250 while in charge of the major offenders bureau. He was a founder of the career criminal squad and has overseen the traffic bureau. He said those traffic duties proved important.
"It made me thick-skinned," Milstead said. "It got me ready for this."
Milstead turns 47 on Monday, is married and has a 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. His father, Ralph Thomas Milstead, worked at Phoenix police 20 years and was appointed by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt to direct the Department of Public Safety from 1980 to 1990. The elder Milstead died of cancer at age 57 in 1996.
When Milstead spoke just after his appointment was made Friday, he choked up after making only brief comments. He later explained he was overcome that his father wasn't alive for what was transpiring.
"I told myself this wouldn't happen," Milstead said. "But this is a big day for me and for my family and I'm just very, very happy."
Assistant Mesa police Chief Mike Denny, who was a top five finalist for the chief's post, said he worked for Milstead's father at DPS.
"I think he'll do well," Denny said of Milstead's new role. "I see a lot of his father in him. He's one of these guys you just want to follow."