Our View: At the end of Mesa's formal goodbye party Thursday for departing Police Chief George Gascón, Vice Mayor Kyle Jones finally acknowledged an issue that city officials have avoided talking about for weeks.
At the end of Mesa's formal goodbye party Thursday for departing Police Chief George Gascón, Vice Mayor Kyle Jones finally acknowledged an issue that city officials have avoided talking about for weeks.
"Unfortunately, there has been politics and egos outside of the community that have tried to influence how we handle law enforcement here," Jones told a crowd of enthusiastic Gascón supporters. "That has been a challenge for us. Unfortunately, we have had to do things differently than we wanted to do."
Gascón's tenure is over. City Manager Chris Brady and the City Council now must decide which lessons they will embrace from the past three years. Will the next Mesa police chief be required to build on Gascón's policies of internal accountability, inter-agency cooperation and statistical analysis, which have driven down violent crime rates by 31 percent since 2006? Or will the next chief be expected to ride the political winds even when they blow away from using police resources effectively to protect the community?
Mesa residents agree on the basic goal for their police department. They want a professional law enforcement agency that prevents crime when possible and, when it can't, quickly nabs the miscreants to deliver justice for victims and for society at large. But the community is sharply divided on the proper methods to reach that goal while illegal immigration continues to be such a huge part of the equation.
Current Mesa policy (and indeed policies for every East Valley city) strives to balance the demands of divergent views over immigration enforcement while prioritizing those criminal activities that are the greatest danger to life and prosperity. By contrast, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to conduct "crime suppression sweeps" that cater to an emotional need among some residents to visibly witness law enforcement "doing something" about illegal immigration and other problems - even though there's little reason to believe these sweeps protect us from harm and there's documented evidence that other areas of Arpaio's duties have been neglected at the same time.
One example of the disparity between these two approaches occurred Thursday with the arrest of a suspected serial rapist from Mesa. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose office participated in Arpaio's latest crime suppression effort last week, noted the suspect is an illegal immigrant.
But the suspected rapist wasn't driven out of town or discovered because of random crime sweeps. The arrest occurred after three days of quietly intense detective work and cooperation between Pinal County and the Mesa and Maricopa police departments.
This is the kind of effective policing that is Gascón's immediate legacy. Mesa residents should call for Brady and the City Council to have similar standards for the next police chief.