Richardson: Mesa police makes great strides amid cutbacks - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Richardson: Mesa police makes great strides amid cutbacks

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 7:47 am | Updated: 8:52 am, Tue Aug 14, 2012.

Our officers have been at the forefront of figuring out how to protect our city. When we have a safer community, we have a community that people want to invest in. This is real nuts-and-bolts police work that gets to the base cause of crime.” Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Arizona Republic, “Mesa’s crime rate for major offenses is lower than in 1963, Mayor lauds preventive strategies by police,” Aug. 2, 2012

Mayor Smith was commenting on the announcement that serious crime in Mesa continues to drop thanks in large part to the police department’s anti-crime strategy of targeting career criminals, gang members, and street-level drug activity and utilizing the latest technologies available from the Mesa Police crime lab and crime information sharing via the East Valley Fusion Center housed at the Mesa PD.

According to the Aug. 2 East Valley Tribune story, “Mesa crime keeps falling,” Mesa police arrested 18 percent more suspects in the first half of this year for serious felony crimes. Mesa’s crime rate translates to 36 Part 1 crimes, per 1,000 residents, compared with 40 Part 1 crimes per 1,000 residents in 1963. Part 1 crimes are considered serious felony crimes.

Mesa once led the East Valley in crime. Not anymore.

In 2011 Tempe’s Part 1 crime rate climbed to 60 per 1,000 residents. Scottsdale and Chandler Part 1 crime rates remain in the low 30s. Gilbert’s dropped to 19 crimes per 1,000 residents. The statewide average is 39 Part 1 per 1,000 residents.

Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead, a retired Phoenix police commander who led Phoenix’s Major Offender Bureau, said the Mesa police department first made significant gains five years ago when it adopted COMPSTAT to track crimes and deploy officers.

Milstead added, “Mesa officers have driven down crime by making more arrests, including a 36 percent spike in drug dealers taken off the streets and making drug arrests a high priority because users and dealers have such a broad impact on the community.”

What makes Mesa’s crime lowering accomplishments even more impressive is that they’ve done it with budget cuts that left the city with only 766 officers, down from over 900.

More money and officers isn’t always the solution to crime. Well-led and highly-motivated officers are extremely important.

Although most career criminals aren’t afraid of prison, they still don’t want to get caught. Mesa has greatly increased their chances of being apprehended making the state’s third largest city an increasingly unwelcome place for criminals. But it’s a much safer place for those who want to live and work in Mesa.

Smith’s comments that “When we have a safer community, we have a community that people want to invest in,” are dead on. Under his leadership, Mesa has evolved into a leader in public safety. While “catch phrase” policing is the rage, especially the term “intelligence led policing,” real police work that makes communities safer requires more than police chiefs looking pretty in their uniforms and regurgitating scripted lines of how wonderful they’re doing. Real police work is dirty, dangerous, involves risk, and requires chiefs who have first-hand experience fighting crime on the streets, and haven’t spent their careers pushing paper, to lead officers and design a strategy to attack crime. Milstead definitely fits that bill.

Too many police agencies have adhered to the kinder and cuddlier principles of “community based policing” where criminals have prospered and citizens suffered.

Mesa police have shown that the only touchy-feely policing that will take place in Arizona’s third largest city is when they slap the cuffs on criminals.

Crooks in jail means lower crime. Mesa PD’s proven that. Mesa is a city where the criminal’s fear of police will make residents safer and a place where businesses want to grow and invest.

The police officers and support staff of the Mesa PD, along with Mayor Smith and Chief Milstead, are to congratulated.

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