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Kearny police chief leaving for Iraq; town may fire him

The Arizona Republic


The Arizona Republic

KEARNY – This small mining town in Pinal County faces a big political quandary.

Police Chief Harry J. Gillway is scheduled to leave for Iraq this month as perhaps the first Arizona police chief to help the U.S. State Department build a civilian law enforcement system in that war-torn nation.

But the town’s mayor, reluctant to let him go, scheduled a closed-door session last night to debate his fate.

If Gillway leaves, the town of 2,249 and its seven police officers would be without a chief for up to a year.

If he stays, would that make the town seem unpatriotic?

Gillway, 46, has been Kearny’s police chief since December 2000. In 1999-2000, he served as a U.N. International Police Task Force station commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina, taking a year off from his duties as a police chief in rural Nebraska.

“We knew that when we hired him,” said Kearny Town Manager Gary Eide.

“I think a leave is probably in place and a good idea. It’s the town that’s the issue. You pull somebody out of the community, and there is a vacuum.”

Gillway is not only the police chief, but also one of its eight patrol officers and president of the Kearny Rotary Club.

Mayor Debra Sommers declined comment yesterday, but the Town Council emerged from its executive session and announced it would grant Gillway a leave of absence for three months. If he is not back by then, he will be fired.

Gillway said he cannot control how long he’ll be gone. “If it means they terminate me in three months, so be it,” he said afterward. “My conscience is clear.”

Earlier in the day he said he worried that if Iraq is not rebuilt, more terrorists will target the United States. “Without law and order, you don’t have a government,” he said. “I’m just a little cog in this big, giant wheel out there, but in my heart I know I can make a difference.”

The Copper Basin south of Superior, which includes Kearny, Hayden and Winkelman, counts close to 40 soldiers serving in Iraq.

Nellie Ortiz, who has lived in the area since the 1940s, said it should be Gillway’s decision whether to serve his country best here or overseas.

“If he wants to go, he’s got a choice. It’s a free country,” Ortiz said. “Why keep somebody from doing something good?”

Gillway would be one of the first 150 U.S. law enforcement officials to enter Iraq under a State Department contract with DynCorp International in which he’ll help set up a police, prison and court framework. Congress set aside $25 million initially to fund the civilian police system in Iraq. Gillway would receive slightly higher pay and benefits from the State Department.

Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a nationwide appeal this week, asking police departments for volunteers.

Gillway said his town has issued a proclamation supporting the troops in Iraq, and all he asks is for “the same respect and privileges” afforded to the soldiers.

Kearny, about equal distance from Phoenix and Tucson, was founded in 1958 as a company town for the Kennecott Copper Co., named for Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, who explored the Gila River Valley in 1849 and 1850. The town still relies on mining jobs; many residents work for ASARCO Inc.

Preparing for growth, not crime, is the town’s top priority. In the first three months of 2003, the Police Department spent most of its time answering complaints about animals, juveniles, burglaries and property damage. Gillway said his lieutenant would serve as chief in his absence, and he would be able to remain in computer contact with the town and with his wife and four children, ages 11 to 16.

Gillway’s brother also is headed to Iraq. James Gillway, police chief of Searsport, Maine, won a leave of absence from his town’s selectmen in a 3-2 closed-door vote last month.

Harry Gillway said Sommers “was adamantly opposed to me going. In some sense, I can understand where she’s coming from. I can’t fault (Kearny leaders) for not wanting to lose their chief for up to a year.”

But he thinks he cannot pass up the chance to help restore law and order to Iraq.

“It’s an incredible task and an interesting one, too,” he said. “You’re on the ground as it’s all taking place.”

Some Kearny residents think there is still work on the ground in town, too. Gary Birkett, owner of Old Time Pizza, is more concerned about the town’s enforcement of a noise ordinance. “I don’t care if he goes to Iraq or not, as long as he gets rid of the cars that go BOOM BOOM BOOM,” Birkett said.

Robert MacClennen, who served in World War II with the Marines, said the United States should stay out of the Middle East and vice versa. “You don’t need a police force, you need one of these,” MacClennen said, shaking his right fist. “If they get out of line, give them three more.”

GRAPHIC: From Kearny to Iraq?

Police Chief Harry Gillway is one of 150 people scheduled to leave Tuesday to help the U.S. State Department set up a civilian police force in Iraq, but the town’s mayor does not want him to go.

MAP: Kearny

2000 population 2,249

White 77%

Hispanic 18%

Native American 1%

Median age 36.9

Source: The Arizona Republic

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