The indications from the Tribune Editorial Board’s first meeting with new Mesa Police Chief George Gascón are that he’ll be worth more than the extra $26,000 per year City Manager Chris Brady tacked onto his starting salary to get him here.
The 22-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department has been credited by his boss with helping drive down crime significantly in that city over just three years as the assistant chief in charge of daily operations. But we wouldn’t have known that from discussions during the meeting.
Rather than touting his past successes, Gascón focused on what he can bring to Mesa as it continues its evolution from placid suburb to fast-paced big city.
His self-effacement makes some sense within the context of his holistic approach to law enforcement, keenly aware of the limitations as well as the upsides of good policing.
“I think it’s a little short-sighted when a community puts all of its resources, or most of its resources, into public safety,” he said, breaking rank with conventional law-enforcement wisdom.
When cities cut back on positive recreational activities for residents of all ages, “you’ll create a situation where you need more cops,” he said.
Unfortunately for him, its voters recently chose to stick with a small-town funding model dependent on sales tax and utility revenues, which has forced cuts in precisely these sorts of programs in favor of the department he’s set to take over on Aug. 7.
He’ll take unpopular stands in order to help protect the community. He doesn’t favor driving away potential witnesses by having local police take part in deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants here illegally, and he says the high expectations he has for his officers has tended to rub some the wrong way.
But he’ll back his men and women when he thinks it’s warranted, as he has since a 2005 hostage situation had the unhappiest ending imaginable: The death of an 18-month-old child.
Gascón appears to be more interested in protecting the community than his officers, and intends to do it all fairly. He’s not approaching Mesa with a messiah complex, but does have an understanding of what the city needs at this point.
“There are some things I am going to learn from Mesa, and hopefully they’ll learn something from me, and that’s going to be depending extensively on having a higher profile,” he said.