Members of Mesa Police Academy Class No. 49

Members of Mesa Police Academy Class No. 49, which graduated Friday, go through workouts. New sales tax projections show the city can support even more police officers and firefighters.

The way things are going, perhaps the signs at the Mesa city limits should have a footnote:

“Welcome to Mesa: Please Apply Within!”

From accountant to water resources officer, the city has scores of openings in nearly every department.

And the biggest push for new blood will be made by the police and fire departments.

Unlike its counterpart Phoenix – where an assistant police chief said staff shortages may force the department to pass on some calls for a uniformed officer – the Mesa Police Department is close to fully staffed, though that depends on how new recruits work out. But the city is giving the green light to hire even more cops as well as firefighters.

According to Sgt. Charles Trapani, Mesa PD has 440 civilian staff members of a budgeted total of 493 and 846 officers – 32 more than the budgeted total of 814.

“The positions over the budgeted positions routinely fill vacant positions due to attrition, i.e. retirements, resignations,” Trapani said.

And, he noted, “The recruits in the (training) academy are not fully-trained solo officers yet.”

“Also, several of the recruits in the academy may resign prior to completion,” he added. “From the academy through field training it is approximately 18 months before officers in training are solo officers able to fill an actual budgeted position in patrol.”

Phoenix, with a population of 1.6 million, has funding for 3,125 sworn positions but only 2,776 filled.

While the state’s largest city struggles to hand out badges, the third-largest plans a major expansion of emergency responders. Mesa’s population is 504,000, about one-third of Phoenix’s.

At a recent study session, City Council enthusiastically embraced a plan to boost the city’s police and fire ranks.

The increases are made possible by a voter-approved sales tax targeted for public safety.

In 2019, the city projected it could hire 45 more sales-tax-funded firefighters; new projections show funding for 36 more firefighters, on top of the 45 initially projected.

And instead of 65 police officers, as projected in 2019, the city now has funding for nearly double that many – 117 more cops.

The new positions will take public safety budgets even higher.

The Mesa Fire and Medical Department budget has grown from $81 million in 2017-18 to $142 million this year – a 75 percent leap.

In the same period, the Mesa Police Department’s budget has jumped from $196 million to $256 million – a 30 percent bump.

Public safety bonds, also approved by voters, and general city funds also contribute to paying for salaries, benefits and equipment of emergency responders.

“This is great,” Councilman David Luna said when the new numbers were unveiled.

“All good news,” Mayor John Giles added.

City Manager Chris Brady said residents are supporting the police with their credit cards.

“The performance of the economy is doing so well we’ve been able to add a tremendous amount of new positions,” Brady said.

He brought up the possibility of looking at a bond for two more fire stations, noting a new fire station “should be opening soon” and another one in southeast Mesa “is under design.” 

According to Dep. Fire Chief Forrest Smith, Station 221 “is in Eastmark and the operational date is still pending – possibly by the beginning of or within the first few days of November.”

Assistant Police Chief Dan Butler noted the department “had massive growth” around 2000 but many of those officers are retiring or planning to leave soon.

“In 2020 we had 61 people leave...I have 41 vacancies in patrol; but I have 81 people in the pipeline ready to go,” Butler said. “We probably won’t be flush where we want to be for a good six to eight months.”

Butler noted that unlike other cities,

a recent ASU survey showed the city’s population is appreciative of the police force. “Our cops know they are supported,” he said.

That public perception, he added, has officers from other cities considering coming here:

“The word’s out on Mesa PD.”

“Our starting pay for a police officer is better than just about anyone else in the entire state,” Butler said.

A raw, off-the-street Mesa police officer recruit with no experience starts at just under $60,000.

And there’s another enticement: Butler said new officers qualify for a $3,500 bonus. 

Council isn’t shy about the public safety hiring plans.

 “It’s important we continue to update the citizens,” Councilman Kevin Thompson said. “They’re the ones that voted to implement a self-imposed sales tax for public safety.”

Luna agreed with that, adding, “The additional staff is certainly going to be a benefit to our city.”

Luna had advice for those who want to support Mesa PD: “Buy local.”

“Ditto,” Councilwoman Julie Spilsbury seconded.

Both stressed the need for shopping locally and enhancing the city’s revenue base that supports the city’s public safety investment.

And the mayor said he looks forward to discussions about potential bonds for more fire and police stations.

“We have to stay ahead of our growth,” said Giles. 

(1) comment

Almasmith

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