Mesa police Chief George Gascón will be one of 16 chiefs nationwide who the federal government will pay to study and create solutions for better policing over the next three years.
The program’s goal is to help officials make a plan for better, more efficient policing. Gascón will participate in a series of meetings known as “Executive Sessions” over the next three years, beginning at the end of this month.
“This is the result of a recognition that policing needs to evolve,” Gascón said. “The theme should be, ‘What are we thinking of doing in the future and how do we get there?’ ”
Gascón said his number one concern is the fact that police are constantly being asked to do more with budgets that just can’t keep up.
An example, Gascón said, is domestic violence, which in the past involved a short call for an officer, who would usually tell a man or woman to go cool down. Today, officers spend up to five hours on some domestic violence calls, and the crime in Mesa also carries a minimum 24 hours in jail in all cases.
“We’re better today as a society, but people need to understand there’s a cost to doing that,” Gascón said.
Gascón said that the meetings he’ll participate in, requiring him to fly to Boston several times a year, won’t be merely “theoretical discussions,” but will actually lead to creating “blueprints” to improve worldwide policing.
“My hope is that it’s not a group of executives who think similarly on things,” said Christine Cole, executive director of the host criminal justice policy and management program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “There should be provocative thought and healthy discourse.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the last Executive Sessions led to the development of community policing — the idea of using residents to help stop crime in cities — still used today to fight crime, Gascón said. All costs, including the chief’s transportation and housing, will be funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The sessions are held at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The chiefs and other experts will publish papers throughout the program.
Others police chiefs attending the meetings include Los Angeles’ William Bratton, Detroit’s Ella Bully-Cummings and New York City’s Raymond Kelly. Policing experts from academia and other sectors of the community will also participate.