The Mesa Police Department has become the third police force in Arizona to join the Major City Chiefs Association, giving the department a voice in efforts to address national policing issues.

In October, Mesa was added to the MCCA rolls during its annual conference in Orlando, Fla., joining world-renown forces such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Mesa has a population of about 450,000, now a “major city” itself that will provide a voice in establishing policies that conform with national standards. To be included in the association, cities must have a population near 500,000 and nearly 1,000 sworn officers. The association was founded in the late 1960s when such departments started meeting on a regular basis to share strategies, technology and influence.

Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead, who was at the group’s October conference, told the Tribune that although violent crime rates are reaching a near-50-year low in the city, Mesa is faced with big-city crime, as it has surpassed major cities such as Kansas City and Cleveland in population.

In 1963, Mesa experienced 40 “Part I,” or violent, crimes per 1,000 residents, compared with 33 violent crimes per 1,000 residents last year, according to city statistics. During the first 10 months of this year, Mesa has seen a 13 percent drop in violent crimes, compared with the same period of time last year, according to the statistics.

The department attributes its success to targeting repeat offenders who comprise the top 10 percent violent criminals.

For the last several years, Mesa had been sending representatives to MCCA meetings to observe how major cities deal with issues that affect departments across the nation — handling social media, efficient patrol deployment during times of budget cuts, use of force, extradition and illegal immigration.

“This gives Mesa exposure,” Milstead said of the department becoming a member of the MCCA. “We now have a voice in what’s going on. Arizona is setting trends in fighting crimes, and we’re a part of that.”

Phoenix and Tucson also are members of the MCCA, and Mesa joins other new members to be added to the now 69-member advisory board: Albuquerque, N.M.; Arlington, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Fresno, Calif.; and Raleigh, N.C.

Milstead said Mesa currently has 777 sworn officers, the lowest number it can have without losing $12.6 million in federal stimulus money it received last year to hire an addition 25 officers. The department is operating on a $145.2 million annual budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, down from a $154.2 million annual operating budget or a 5.7 percent cut from its 2009-10 fiscal year budget, according to information from the city’s finance department.

When the MCCA meets again early next year in Washington, D.C., issues including budgets and illegal immigration will be discussed with federal law enforcement groups such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and members of Congress.

“It’s a great format for policing issues,” Milstead said. “This gives us an opportunity to share information and what we are doing for efficiency.”

One of the growing concerns, Milstead said, is how cities are beginning to address extradition issues, even when it comes to apprehending violent offenders.

Last year, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office announced it no longer would be the law enforcement agency to extradite criminals from other states, placing the cost burden on local departments. So far, it has not become a problem with Mesa, which has spent slightly more than $8,000 in extraditions and will travel anywhere in the U.S. to obtain a violent criminal wanted within the city’s jurisdiction, Milstead said.

But some police departments across the nation have policies in place of not going after criminals if they are more than 500 miles away — and often if officers can’t get to the criminal’s destination by car, they’ll remain free.

Right now, two violent offenders — one out of Pensacola, Fla, and a man accused of committing crimes against a child in Rhode Island — are living in Phoenix, but the jurisdictions they are wanted in will not travel to Arizona to get them at their expense and the suspects can’t be arrested by authorities here because they have not committed any crimes in the Valley.

“It’s a huge problem,” Milstead said.


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