Milstead proving risk was worth taking for Mesa - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Milstead proving risk was worth taking for Mesa

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 8:13 pm | Updated: 11:28 pm, Wed May 25, 2011.

Frank Milstead isn't afraid to take a risk.

As a young police officer he took a huge risk that could have cost him his life when he rescued a man from a burning car. For his courage and heroism he was awarded the Medal of Valor.

Becoming chief of police in Mesa involved a different kind of risk.

Milstead had spent 25 years with the Phoenix Police Department and retired at the rank of commander. He had the security that goes with his years of service, rank and a long-standing reputation of success. He was being talked about as a future Phoenix chief and was being heavily recruited by headhunters.

But on March 22, 2010, Milstead left that behind when he was appointed Mesa's newest chief - a position one police chief told me he wouldn't touch because of the politics regarding the city's long-boiling immigration law enforcement debate and its falsely deserved reputation as a sanctuary city against arresting illegal immigrants.

What's more, during the previous 2 1/2 years before Milstead took over, Mesa police had lowered serious crime by 33 percent, cut fatal traffic accidents in half, and more people than ever were going to jail while officers were arresting more illegal aliens than the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

And then there was that issue of Mesa having had 10 police chiefs during the last 30 years when Chandler and Gilbert each had just three chiefs during that time.

While earning the Medal of Valor and an enviable reputation as being a great boss gave Milstead instant street cred with the cops, Mesa's mayor and council needed more than that to keep Mesa going in the right direction. They had to have a chief that could hit the ground running, continue cutting crime and costs and buy them some much-needed political breathing room from anti-immigrant crowd and the six o'clock news.

It's been a year now since Milstead arrived in Mesa and the city's imaginary status as a sanctuary city disappeared and crime has continued to drop.

But Milstead is just getting started.

Milstead brought with him years of experience as the Phoenix police department's point man in the Homeland Defense and Major Offender Bureaus where he spent considerable time working with federal, state, county and city police agencies throughout Arizona. He knows working together, sharing and building positive relationships among agencies are the key to crime fighting.

Within his first year in Mesa, besides keeping crime down, Milstead has been selected to serve as the vice chairman on the governing board of the Arizona Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Center and the vice-chairman of the Maricopa County regional information sharing project. He was also asked to be the chairman of the East Valley Gang & Criminal Information Fusion Center that serves Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Salt River Indian Community, Scottsdale and Tempe. It's nice to have friends who trust and believe in you.

Milstead has taken an extremely strong leadership role not only in Mesa but in the East Valley and throughout the county. No doubt this will bode well for Mesa and the East Valley as cities grapple with decreased revenues and an increasing list of unfunded state mandates.

Retired Mesa police chief Jan Strauss told me besides the fact Milstead hit the ground running, he became "immediately engaged with the community, police employees and his fellow chiefs. His enthusiasm and passion for policing is infectious."

U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales, who has followed Milstead's career for over 20 years, said: "Frank is a cop's cop who understands the role of being an executive, yet does not forget where he came from."

There's no doubt Mesa made the right choice when it hired Milstead to be the chief of police.

• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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