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Police chief finalists won’t heavily pursue immigration enforcement

Pushing for excellent relations with public is a common theme

Tucsonans of many stripes are scrutinizing the pasts and credentials of four men who hope to be Tucson’s next police chief.

The candidates are expected to submit to three hours of questioning from the City Council in a closed session before the council’s regularly scheduled study session Tuesday.

The finalists, determined through rankings submitted by public panels, are Capt. Brett Klein of the Tucson Police Department, Assistant Chief John Leavitt of the Tucson department, Assistant Chief Blake McClelland of the Phoenix Police Department and former Chief Mark Paresi of the North Las Vegas Police Department.

The chief, chosen by the city manager and approved by the council, should be in place by May, officials said.

Former Tucson police chief and current Assistant City Manager Richard Miranda said he would interview the candidates Tuesday. He said all four finalists were qualified so his questions would be aimed at finding a good fit.

Miranda cited a willingness to speak directly to the public and to news outlets, a commitment to interact with neighborhood groups and an acknowledgement of the City Council policy that enforcing immigration laws is not a local police department’s responsibility. “It comes down to philosophy,” he said.

Human Resources Manager Tameron Collins, who is overseeing the recruitment, said two companies were hired to do background investigations.

The Tucson Police Officers’ Association, upset at the rigid terms of its role in the hiring, sent representatives to Phoenix, North Las Vegas and even Portland, Ore., where Paresi previously worked, union President Larry Lopez said.

“I believe that the process is flawed,” Lopez said, citing a prohibition on speaking to the candidates directly. “We’re taking this very seriously.”

Lopez said he’s looking for a candidate who has leadership, integrity and the backing of the rank and file. The union hasn’t endorsed a candidate but it will, he said.

Neighborhood activists are also doing their homework.

“It’s hard to define someone in a one-hour process,” said Christina Cruz, president of the Midvale Park Neighborhood Association and a participant in the neighborhood panel that submitted questions for the candidates.

Cruz has called neighborhood groups who have dealt with the out-of-town candidates.

With community panels held and rankings in, city officials are moving into the final round of vetting.

That will occur behind closed doors, but here’s what the candidates told the Tucson Citizen about why they should be Tucson’s next chief:

TPD Assistant Chief John Leavitt

Leavitt, 48, described his strength as his connection to Tucson and his advocacy for civil rights.

A native Tucsonan, Leavitt began work with TPD in 1982 as an unpaid reserve officer.

The experience was formative, he said. “Even back then, I realized that the most important factor in the success of the department is its communication with the public,” he said.

Expanding the reserves would be part of Leavitt’s plan if made chief. In five years, he hopes reserve officers would number 100, from fewer than 10 now.

Besides boosting manpower, the reserves add to the dialogue that keeps the department responsive, Leavitt said.

On immigration issues, Leavitt said he would follow direction from the City Council, which means no enforcement of immigration laws in neighborhoods or outside of suspects in criminal investigations.

His reasoning was based on a shortage of resources and a desire to ensure that no one is afraid to call the police for help.

Enforcing federal law, he said, would also mean “we get less prosecution of street-level crime, and street-level crime is what affects the everyday person.”

Leavitt advocates a return to focusing on prosecutions of gun crimes, which are easier to prove than drug and gang crimes.

He has a master’s degree in education from Northern Arizona University and participated in Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government program for local government officials.

Although the Tucson Citizen requested Leavitt’s personnel file Feb. 16, it had not been released by Friday.

A Citizen database of TPD disciplinary action since 2007 shows Leavitt was involved in a vehicle collision deemed preventable. The disciplinary action was counseling.

Because the union has not endorsed a candidate, union President Lopez would not speak directly about Leavitt.

TPD Capt. Brett Klein

Klein, 50, cited as selling points his 22 years with TPD, 30 in law enforcement and knowledge of how the department, the community and local government interact.

He stressed his leadership and communication skills and his goal of furthering the department’s relationship with the public.

“I think it’s the responsibility of the police department to communicate,” he said, pointing to his experience as a department spokesman.

On immigration, Klein, as with Leavitt, advocates continuing current policy.

“The police department has done a good job in determining what our role is,” Klein said.

“Until it becomes a matter of point with some other investigation we may be conducting, we don’t enforce immigration law,” he said. “We want to make sure that people who need the help of the police department call us.”

Klein said his plan as chief would involve watching local, regional and national trends carefully.

He would establish partnerships with nonprofit groups and other groups that work to prevent crime, for example, substance abuse services.

Klein’s education includes several executive training programs and a pending degree in justice system policy and planning from Northern Arizona University.

Although the Tucson Citizen requested Klein’s personnel file Feb. 16, it had not been released by Friday.

A database of TPD disciplinary action since 2007 shows that Klein was investigated for a supposed procedures violation that was determined unfounded.

Lopez declined to speak about Klein until the union makes a recommendation.

Phoenix Assistant Chief Blake McClelland

McClelland, 51, said, “I think that chief’s No. 1 responsibility is responsiveness to the community.”

He said he was uncomfortable answering questions from the media before Tuesday, but was “looking forward to answering questions and speaking to the mayor and council.”

Asked why he would like to be TPD chief, McClelland said “No. 1 reason is because it’s Tucson.” During his 32 years in Phoenix, he has visited the Old Pueblo for training and vacation, he said.

“I have a young family, and I look forward to the Tucson community,” he said.

On immigration, McClelland said, “I just think municipal police employees should not do routine enforcement of immigration. We need to find a more global solution and work with our federal partners and the state.”

McClelland’s education includes a doctorate from Arizona State University in public affairs with an emphasis on organizational theory and behavior.

Phoenix police union President Mark Spencer said he did not recommend McClelland for the Tucson job.

“Leaders do what’s right. Managers do what’s expedient. Blake is a good manager,” Spencer said, “but he has a tendency to follow the party line.”

Spencer pointed out that McClelland’s job history does not include experience leading a precinct, a position that involves the most interaction with the public and rank-and-file officers.

“He’s a nice guy, but if you’re looking for innovative leadership, I don’t know that you’ll find it in Blake McClelland,” Spencer said.

Former North Las Vegas police Chief Mark Paresi

Paresi, 57, said his greatest strength lies in his 20 years of community policing and dealing with “quality of life” issues.

“I think I would fit in well (in Tucson), particularly in this time of stress,” the 34-year law enforcement veteran said.

Paresi said he began an interest in community policing while working for the Portland Police Department, where he oversaw police expansion into an annexed area, working closely with neighborhood groups. “It was thrilling,” he said.

He cited budget and capital improvement plan experience in North Las Vegas, where the population grew by almost 100,000 over the five years he was chief.

Paresi said he wanted to be Tucson’s top cop because of the department’s reputation. “I was very impressed with the professionalism,” he said.

He said his leadership skills set him apart.

“I set performance standards for my staff,” he said. “I hold myself accountable and I hold my staff accountable.”

He said that idea translated into openness. In North Las Vegas, Paresi set up a public information office. “It’s my belief that we’re transparent, and there’s relatively little that we should not share.”

On immigration, Paresi said, “It’s the police department’s job to prevent crime and the fear of crime.”

He said he has not conducted immigration raids such as the high-profile ones in Maricopa County, though he advocates a “relentless pursuit” of offenders for drug, gang and trafficking crimes.

On future policy, Paresi declined to be specific.

“I think it’s incumbent on the new person to listen,” he said.

Paresi’s education includes a master’s in criminal justice from Portland State University and graduation from Harvard’s JFK School of Government’s program for local government officials.

On his 2007 retirement from the North Las Vegas Police Department, Paresi said: “I was brought in as a change agent. . . . There comes a point when you’re a change person; it was time to go a different direction.”

Allegations were made in Las Vegas newspapers that his retirement was prompted by political or union pressure or allegations that women and minorities faced discrimination within the department.

He called the articles “an inaccurate reflection” and said he was the first chief to promote women to command positions and started hiring more civilians and treating them as equals to officers.

“There’s a bigger story there,” he said of two women’s allegations of sexual harassment. The cases were dismissed in court.

The media also reported that Paresi hired the daughter of a city councilwoman as a paid intern.

Paresi said Friday that he probably wouldn’t do that again because of the media response but that he didn’t see it as a conflict of interest.

“The conflict of interest would have been if I had my own children working there,” he said.

North Las Vegas Police Officers’ Union President Terry McAllister declined to comment on reported past friction between Paresi and the union or why Paresi left the city’s employ.

“I’m sure he’ll do a great job,” he said.

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