Within the next month, City Manager Mike Hein and members of the City Council will make a critically important decision as they select Tucson’s next police chief.
The police chief is one of a community’s most visible leaders. But the chief also is responsible for overseeing a corps of men and women entrusted with ensuring the safety of citizens. There is no more important government duty than public safety.
The search for Tucson’s next police chief has been narrowed to four men: Capt. Brett Klein and Assistant Chief John Leavitt, both of the Tucson Police Department; Assistant Chief Blake McClellan of the Phoenix Police Department; and former Chief Mark Paresi of the North Las Vegas Police Department.
If there were deep cultural or operational problems within TPD, it would be important to select an outsider to set a new direction. But that is not the case, as TPD is a nationally respected and professionally run department.
So selecting the next chief comes down to picking the best match for the department, for Tucson and for Tucsonans.
There are some obvious needs in the next chief.
He must have strong leadership skills so he earns the respect of the officers who work for him.
He must be good at communication – within the department, with the City Council, with neighborhood groups and with the countless other constituencies that interact with police.
And the next chief’s focus must be on local, street-level crime – preventing it to the extent possible and identifying and arresting wrongdoers when crimes are committed.
Several of the candidates talked about the importance of focusing on crimes involving guns, gangs or drugs. That kind of strategy is essential so repeat offenders and the worst of the worst are targeted for special attention.
Illegal immigration will be a topic of discussion for the next chief – but it will not and should not be a major focus of the department’s attention.
Certainly anyone who breaks state laws should be identified and arrested – and that undoubtedly will include some illegal immigrants. But no local law enforcement agency has the time or resources to go after people whose only crime is illegally entering the country.
Murder, sexual assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft – these are the crimes that concern most Tucsonans. And they are the crimes that should also be of paramount concern to the Tucson Police Department. To investigate those crimes, police need the trust and cooperation of all residents – including those who are in the country illegally.
The next Tucson police chief must be multifaceted and multitalented. Much will be expected of him in a high-pressure environment.