How badly did Mesa want George Gascón to be its top cop? Consider this: In April, when the field of 44 candidates had been narrowed to five, City Manager Chris Brady said the new chief’s annual pay could reach $144,000.
But when Brady declared on Monday that his pick was Gascón, the third-ranking official in the Los Angeles Police Department, that base salary had taken a sizable leap to $170,000.
Gascón would be the highestranking Hispanic employee for Mesa.
His hiring is notable because he is Latino, of Cuban descent, and he is coming to a city undergoing a seismic shift in racial demographics. Hispanics made up 20 percent of Mesa’s popul- ulation in 2004, the latest numbers available; 24 years ago, that figure was 9.1 percent.
Gascón has said he will be a chief who happens to be Hispanic, rather than a Hispanic chief. But he acknowledges his heritage will be an asset.
“I will have the opportunity to bring to the table certain experiences and, possibly, levels of sensitivity that someone who hasn’t had my background may not,” said Gascón, who is bilingual.
Mesa’s 1,300- employee police force has been without a permanent chief since December, when Dennis Donna stepped down. The interim chief has been Gregory T. Fowler; he was among the semifinalists.
For Brady, it’s worth an extra $26,000 to hire a man widely praised as a smart, creative leader who trained under one of the nation’s best chiefs and whose ethnicity matches Mesa’s growing Hispanic population.
“This is a very unique opportunity for Mesa, frankly, to get one of the top police officers in the country,” Brady said. “He definitely has the respect and credentials on a national level.”
For Gascón to leave the department to which he’s given 27 years, he had to have liked what he saw in Mesa — and he did.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for me, hopefully, to improve upon what I already consider to be a very good department,” said Gascón, LAPD’s assistant chief in charge of operations.
The other finalist was Phoenix assistant chief John L. Buchanan. He was out of his office Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Brady’s selection of Gascón will be ratified at the Mesa City Council meeting on July 12. Gascón then would take over the agency on Aug. 7
Mesa’s Hispanic community lobbied Brady hard for Gascón’s hiring, and was thrilled by the announcement.
“Especially coming from L.A., he has the skill sets and decision-making capacity to bring the city forward and bring the department forward,” said Pat Esparza, executive director of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens.
Magdalena Schwartz, director of Latino Community Service, said: “I will support him 100 percent.”
Also firmly in Gascón’s corner are the unions representing the city’s police officers.
The Mesa Police Association and Mesa Lodge 9 Fraternal Order of Police believe what the agency needs now is a true leader, a man who can improve morale and give officers reasons to stay.
Joe Shelley, the association’s president, said Mesa’s peers in Los Angeles praised Gascón’s inclusive style of communication, while FOP president Bryan Soller said he was impressed when he learned Gascón rides along with field officers monthly.
Apparently, the Los Angeles police unions’ endorsement of Gascón carried weight in Arizona; Soller said an informal poll showed Gascón was favored by more than 80 percent of nearly 900 Mesa employees surveyed.
Although Gascón has been negotiating with Mesa during the last two weeks, he still has been devoting himself to L.A. law enforcement.
Last week, he was touting a police unit that would enlist builders in fighting crime. Concepts include the use of extensive lighting and surveillance cameras, and unobstructed views of parking areas and streets.
It’s that kind of thinking that Brady wanted in a new chief. And it’s that kind of creativity that LAPD Chief William Bratton will miss when his assistant departs.
“Mesa’s gain is certainly our loss,” Bratton said. “He’s pretty much my right arm here.”
FAMILY: Married, two children.
EXPERIENCE: Los Angeles Police Department
• 2003-present: Assistant police chief
• 2002-03: Chief of support services/human resources
• 2000-02: Commander
• 1996-2000: Captain
• 1993-96: Lieutenant
• 1978-81 & 1987-89: Officer
City Ford, Los Angeles, Calif.
• 1981-1987: Sales manager, general sales manager
• J.D., Western State University (1996)
• B.A., History; California State University, Long Beach (1978)
• California Bar Association, Executive Board Member, Criminal Law Section
• Los Angeles Bar Association
• Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association
• Hispanic Law Enforcement Administrators
• International Association of Chiefs of Police
• Latin American Law Enforcement Officers Association
• Police Executive Research Forum