Scottsdale’s new police chief has an affinity for antique toys, wears a Mickey Mouse watch and has a Teddy Roosevelt doll on his desk.
But don’t let the soft stuff fool you.
Alan G. Rodbell has more than 25 years of policing under his belt as a beat officer, an investigator of child abuse cases and as an internal affairs director. And longtime friends and co-workers of Rodbell say he’s a strong leader and consensus builder.
“He’s one of the most outstanding I’ve ever seen to get people together,” said Capt. Drew Tracy, who worked with Rodbell for 20 years at the Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Department.
Scottsdale hired Rodbell as a deputy police chief through a national search in February 2002. He took over as acting chief Jan. 21, the day City Manager Jan Dolan fired Doug Bartosh. On April 4, Dolan named him as the city’s permanent top police officer. He is paid $134,000 annually.
Rodbell, 50, started in law enforcement in 1976 as a patrol officer and steadily moved through the ranks — eventually making it as one of Montgomery County’s three assistant chiefs of police, presiding over a force of about 1,500. He was considered for the police chief post there in 1999. That job was awarded instead to Charles A. Moose, the chief America got to know when he broke down in tears on national television during the string of sniper shootings last year.
Rodbell, who describes himself as a “type A” personality and American history buff, said he became enamored with the natural beauty of the Southwest when he and his wife, Debbie, took a trip to Arizona in 1986 for the 105th anniversary of the OK Corral gunfight in Tombstone.
“I fell in love with the culture, I fell in love with the art and the weather,” he said.
The chief, who sports salt-and-pepper hair and a mustache, recently built a home in the Pinnacle Peak area. His new chief’s office, formerly that of Bartosh, is slowly being put together with some of his favorite memorabilia: An autographed photo of “a great leader,” Teddy Roosevelt (purchased on eBay); a Mickey Mouse detective doll; and a framed box of his badges.
“He’s an unrequited cowboy,” said Montgomery County police Capt. John Fitzgerald.
Rodbell said he learned of the Scottsdale deputy chief job and applied at his wife’s encouragement after he had retired and thought about teaching college as a second career. But she knew he would miss law enforcement, he said. So when he received the Scottsdale offer, Rodbell moved his wife, two children and mother-in-law here along with his “special-needs” brother-in-law, who lives independently.
Using his law enforcement experience, he said he hopes to build an even stronger police department in Scottsdale.
“I’m a big advocate of a well-trained, well-educated, well-prepared work force, and I think that Scottsdale is all those things. As a community, they deserve all those things in their police department,” Rodbell said.
Scottsdale police also will have a five-year strategic plan, possibly in the next six months, he said.
Rodbell’s experience should also help him with ethnic and race relations in Scottsdale.
As an assistant chief, he worked as a liaison to the black community and created a response team of trained residents to facilitate complaints to police and respond to some calls.
“We wanted them to go into the community and explain what the department was doing,” Rodbell said. “They’d actually go in and restore calm.”
Rodbell’s task probably was the toughest, he said, because his department had been investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with racial profiling.
Rodbell said he is convinced that racial issues here must be dealt with “head-on.” He said he intends to create three community groups, led by each of the city’s district commanders, and each group will funnel information into a central police chief panel.
Old friends say Rodbell’s move to Scottsdale and his position here should suit him well.
Rodbell’s basement in his former home in Maryland featured an Old West theme with an old bar, a jail cell and a full-size cowboy mannequin playing cards, his friends said.
“He’s Mr. Knick Knack,” Tracy said. “He was always a cowboy at heart, and he got to fulfill his dream.”