The recent upheaval in the ranks of the Mesa Police Department, due to several use-of-force incidents on the street, as well as an alleged lack of leadership, has brought the Chief of Police to the point where the troops are discussing a vote of "no confidence". Many suggestions on how to fix things have come from insiders and outsiders as well.
I'd like to offer my own thoughts on how to help heal the wounds internally, as well as help to bridge the confidence gap between those who wear the uniform and the citizens of Mesa. I served in various capacities as a sworn officer for Mesa PD during the twenty years ending in 1998. Then for the next sixteen years, I taught high school in Mesa.
Having lived in Mesa for over forty years, I love the city and its people. I have grandkids going to school here. With that background, and noting that most of the suggestions to make Mesa great again have involved looking forward to new policing models and policing technology, I'd like to suggest that our mayor, city council and the MPD command staff pause and take a look back.
Look back to a time when every Mesa PD patrol car (and most other valley agencies' units also), carried on its driver's door, the motto:
To Protect and Serve.
Mesa cops - there were about 165 sworn personnel, and the city was divided into only about eight patrol beats at that time - came face-to-face with this pledge every time we hit the streets after briefing. And it meant something. That motto has been missing from patrol cars for many years. As far as I knew from interactions in mundane as well as life-or-death interactions with my academy classmates, we were all believers in the fact that our mission was to do just one thing, though in many different ways. And that one thing was to protect the God-given individual rights of our citizens. We were called "peace officers" in the state standards, and that, too, meant something.
Of course, our service and protection to the community was many times anything but peaceful. But it was always our goal. The 1957 Law Enforcement Officers Code of Ethics, which we all pledged to follow, was given to each of us. In part, it said:
"As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice.
I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency.........I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession... law enforcement."
This powerful and personal pledge of service has since been replaced, in many agencies, by the Law Enforcement Code of Conduct, which has removed the references to God, and other parts of the original. That was the general state of law enforcement for the nation. But more than that, our own General Orders Manual featured the following orders from the command staff to all personnel:
"The application and enforcement of the law must be accomplished in the spirit set forth by the framers of the Constitution. The rights of each citizen are equal with those of the state, which might accuse him." ~Mesa PD Gen. Order 01.103~
"A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is essential to the security of individual rights and the perpetuity of a free state." ~Art. 2, Sec. 1, Arizona Constitution~
"Officers should display a reverence for the legal rights of all citizens and a reverence for the law itself." ~Mesa PD Gen. Order 01.103.B.4~
"Enforcement action should not be taken in grudging adherence to the rights of the accused, but in the spirit of ensuring that the rights of accused persons are protected by the police." ~Mesa PD Gen. Order 01.103.B.3~
"All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights." ~Art. 2, Sec. 2, Arizona constitution~
"We love peace, as we abhor pusillanimity; but not at any price. There is a peace more destructive of the manhood of man than war is destructive of his material body. Chains are worse than bayonets." ~Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)~
Sadly, these general orders aren't a part of the MPD Manual today. Today, the training of recruit officers is much different and militarism has crept in, along with the idea that cops are better than the citizens and must supervise them. Not every cop has this attitude, but too many display it regularly. Recent use-of-force incidents demonstrate the fact that the servant mentality is on life support.
This servant culture can be reinstituted at Mesa PD, but like those early years, it must come from the top down. Culture is contagious.