Mesa Police Chief George Gascon


Jose Cardenas:
I'm Jose Cardenas. Welcome to "Horizonte." Tonight, former Mesa Police Chief George Gascon talks about his accomplishments with Mesa. Also, his view on law enforcement's role when it comes to immigration, plus what he has to say about sheriff Joe Arpaio's crime suppression sweeps. All this, next on "Horizonte." Good evening and thank you for joining us. Chief George Gascon became the police chief in July of 2006, recruited from the Los Angeles police department where he served as deputy chief. Gascon was able to retool the Mesa police department using technology and cutting edge theories to target the worst crime preventers. He took a more public role than other leaders by Clark openly with Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio over immigration enforcement. He's now moving on to the next step in his career as San Francisco's police chief. Joining me right before he leaves Arizona is Chief George Gascon. Chief, welcome back to "Horizonte." You've been a guest several times on this show, including shortly after you came here. In August of 2006 we had on you and we want to play a clip from that very first interview. With us now is the new Mesa police Chief George Gascon. Welcome to "Horizonte" and to Arizona.

George Gascon:
Thank you. Thank you very much.

Jose Cardenas:
The newspaper articles describing the welcome that we were referring to say it was almost Hollywood more than what you would normally associate with Mesa. Were you surprised with the warmth of the reception?

George Gascon:
I was. I was pleasantly surprised. I have been made to feel very welcome since the very beginning, but the reception was beyond what I expected. Extremely well attended by community members, by members of the police department and I was made to feel very much part of the community already. And I really appreciate it. I'm very excited.

Jose Cardenas:
Chief, some of those warms feelings aren't quite the same now as they were three years ago, and I want to talk about that. Before I do, one of the other things you said in that first interview was, I think Mesa presents a great opportunity to experiment and enhance the quality of policing Services and to do so, much more efficiently. How did the experiment turn out?

George Gascon:
The experiment has turned out extremely well. In some accounts I've exceeded my own expectations. If you look at the crime reduction, it's been phenomenal. But when we go beyond the crime reduction, we look at the technology that we have been able to implement. We look at some of the things we're actually getting ready to launch, the fact that, for instance, in September of this year we're starting -- we're the only nonfederal agency that's going to be piloting a program, Lockheed Martin, where we'll be able to have a portable, basically the size after laptop computer, equipment that will go to the field and we'll be able to determine D.N.A. testing and elimination and in a period of about 20-30 minutes. Some of the things we've been able to do as far as link analysis in data mining for crime information by using tools like cuff link, some of the other things we have been able to do as far as the injecting further civilian personnel into things that were traditionally done by police officers, and increasing our ability to sort of coexist with other disciplines. And bring in other folks to the table, bringing community members; bring in federal agencies to work with us. There's really a whole host of things we have been able to do that they have not been normally done the way we have. The east valley gang and criminal information center has been a tremendous success, and now it's kind of a national novelty because it's not working at the level of the some of the other antiterrorism groups, but it's working, providing information to the police officers in the field, real time information concerning crimes.

Jose Cardenas:
You came to Mesa from Los Angeles police department where you were one of the top three officials there, one of the largest if not the largest police department in the country. Brought a lot of techniques here, and you came to a Mesa police department that was suffering, and it was a lot of shake-up that went on. And yet as you depart, the Mesa police officers association describes you as a policeman's policeman. How do you explain that?

George Gascon:
I think one of the things that I recognize as soon as I got to Mesa was this tremendous division between the working or the police officers in the field and the members of the command staff, and we have been able to break those barriers down. I don't take decisions without including the employee labor groups. That doesn't mean we always agree, but I think it is critically important in order to run the organization properly, as to listen to the concerns of the officers, listen to the concerns of labor. So almost every step of the way we have brought the union on board. When we had to do very drastic budgetary cuts, and we put our plan together because we're given a mission by the city management to put the -- the reduction, 5, 10, or 15%, I brought in the unions immediately. We discussed what are the areas we could cut, how can we do it, how can we lessen the pain to the officers. When we have done new operational initiatives, we bring the union on board. I personally go out in the field. I jump in the police car and listen to what the officers have to say. So there has been a very different approach to policing in the Mesa police department. And I think it's critically important, policing is the people. We're in the people business. And the people within the police department have the most contact with the public if the police officers. They have to be heard. They have to be included in the decision-make process, and I think that's what we have -- why we have such a good relationship. That's not to say they're going to agree, and those are going to occur, but as long as there's credibility, there's respect for one another and we -- and that's why I think you find I have been supported so much by labor, and in the Mesa police department, because of the inclusion.

Jose Cardenas:
Chief, you arrived in Arizona at a particularly difficult time in our state's history, a lot of anti-immigration sentiment, some of those people say they're not racist, they're just ant illegal immigration. I want to share with you a quote from an interview I did with the anchor for -- the ABC national anchor about his experience a few years before you got here when he was in Arizona doing a book tour, and he went on a local radio show and said he was shocked by the level of prejudice and intolerance from many of the callers. He said "I cannot understand their hatred toward Latino, especially undocumented immigrants in this country." He concluded by saying it was shocking. "I have not seen in any other state the kind of prejudice that I've heard here in Arizona, I'm sorry to stay that." What's your assessment? Do you agree with what he said?

George Gascon:
You know, I don't necessarily agree that that represents the majority of the people in the state. I think the majority of the people in the state are very good people, trying to dot right things. But there's no question that there's a very vocal minority in the state that is very effective in spreading hateful information quite frankly providing a lot of misinformation about immigration, and illegal immigration. And we have some political leaders in the state that have basically -- I think to a great extent they've poisoned public opinion when it comes toll immigration in general. I think the combination of misinformation, I think unquestionably a small group, but am very powerful and very effective group that it is very racist, has had a very negative impact in the overall environment of Arizona. But having said that, I don't think they represent the majority of the people, and I -- I haven't been now in policing here for three years, I can tell you that the good people far outweigh those that are far out there. But there's no question that misinformation has really impacted the political environment, and unfortunately many people believe some of the things that are being told by some of the people, some of the public officials as to the impact of illegal immigration on the state. And that has caused many problems.

Jose Cardenas:
Have you seen that extend beyond people saying they're opposed to illegal immigration, and just out and out prejudice in terms of your administration out here -- of your police force?

George Gascon:
I have. For instance, I had an incident very early on where we had a neighbor dispute between two people, and apparently it was an ongoing problem, and normally those things are not rushed to the level of my office, but this case it was, because it was an elderly woman who was very upset, and demanded to reach out to my office. So we did, so we sent -- I actually take personal attention to this matter, I directed the commander to send one of the better beat officers in that area to go talk to her and try to handle the problem. This officer happens to be Mexican-American. By the way, I had no idea -- the officer as far as I was aware could have been anybody. And then I get this very hateful email back from her that not only was I not really handling the problem, but I sent her a Mexican instead of sending her a white officer. And she want add white officer, and I replied we're color-blind as far as the officers we send. That we send to an event, and certainly this officer was qualified, and that was the end of the story. But that was shocking to me, because she felt very comfortable using that language. She felt very comfortable sending the chief of police an email basically saying I don't want a Mexican officer, Latino officer coming to my residence to deal with my problems. I want a white officer.

Jose Cardenas:
Do you think the overall atmosphere in the state at this time encourages that as appropriate behavior?

George Gascon:
Yeah. I think that is a problem. And I think it does -- by some of the hate speech that goes on by certain people in the media, especially in talk radio, and some of our key political leaders, they very comfortably talk about these things. I have another experience, about a year and a half ago there was a mainstream political party event, meeting, and during that discussion this person, no one stopped this person, but you had an individual passing out literature was Holocaust denying. And one of the reasons why this individual was making an argument of the Holocaust did not occur is because if that many people meaning the 6 million Jews that were murdered, they would have to be evidence of that much soil being unearthed and placed somewhere else to displace in order to account for the bodies. And the fact that most of those people were cremate and there's ample evidence it did occur, and yet there was no one questioning that. I'm not talking about some estranged movement; I'm talking about a mainstream political party meeting. That to me was very shocking.

Jose Cardenas:
Chief, I do want to talk about illegal immigration. Specifically about your difference was sheriff Arpaio, but before we get there A. few general things. Your police department itself recently signed a 287G agreement. Can you explain how that's consistent with statements you've made in the past about the appropriate role of law enforcement in immigration?

George Gascon:
Absolutely. About 2½ years ago, as we were trying to get our arms around the issues of illegal immigration and crime, and I do not put the two together. I'm talking about people who were not necessarily here illegally and coming to work, but people here illegally and committing crimes other than crossing the border without authority. One of the things that was discussed in talking to our city councilmen was the need to be able to use all the tools that we can use when we're dealing with people that are committing crimes. Regardless of whether they're here illegally or not. One of those tools is once we get somebody into the jail, is finding out who they really are. The ability to find out especially foreign nationals and to be able to do a thorough investigation into their identity and their whereabouts, where they came from and all that stuff, requires us sometimes to get access to immigration databases. In order to do that efficiently, you have to have the training that is provided by 287G. So what we agreed was to train civilian personnel in our jails, or people that have already been arrested, they've been a-- the arrest has been approved by a supervisor, we've established there was an underlying offense and they're being accused of that offense unrelated to immigration status, and now we're trying to find out who they are for us to be able to get that level of information. We put in the request about 2½ years ago, the federal government stopped a lot of the training, it took some time under the new administration now that has -- with new guideline and new guidelines by the way primarily are intended to be for the field enforcement, not for the in-custody enforcement, which is what we're seeking. But that has been resolved, and now we have been told that our training requests will be honored, and we'll be able to send civilian jail personnel to the training. But again, there's a difference. We're not talking about police officers on the street doing immigration sweeps or look for people just that are here without documents. We're talking about people that have been arrested, are now in the jail and being process and we're trying to determine who they are and trying to avail ourselves of the tools possible in order to deal with the problem.

Jose Cardenas:
Speaking of immigration sweeps, Sheriff Joe's approach has been the subject of a lot of controversy. Differences of opinion between you and him, but even more recently, articles in the New Yorker, we've got the cover of the most recent addition, July 20th, I think, that we want to show on the screen right now. Referring to sheriff Arpaio's one-man law and in talking about whether the -- sheriff Joe Arpaio keeps inmates in tents, puts women and teens on chain gangs, and raids tents in search of undocumented immigrants, but what's he doing about crime? Some people dismiss this as kind of the liberal media attacking a conservative sheriff, but there have been others. The Goldwater institute. We've got some screens with their reports. This is from late -- policy briefing from the Goldwater institute, may of this year. Justice denied the improper clearance of unsolved crimes by the Maricopa County sheriff's office. This is a supplement to an earlier one that we're going to put up on the screen that comes from last December where it says "mission unaccomplished, the misplaced priorities of the Maricopa County sheriff's office." That one gets into the issue of crime suppression, which the sheriff says he's doing. And it says in part although MCSE is adopt at self-promotion under its watch, crime rates have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other circumstances, it has diverted resource away from basic law enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective and policing illegal immigration and in reducing crime generally and to extensive trips by MCSO officials to Honduras for purposes that are nebulous at best. The report goes on to talk about, for example, reported violent crimes growing by over 69%, including 166% increase in homicides over the three-year period from 2004-2007. And then notes the contrast between the areas for which the sheriff is responsible and crime rates rising and those such as in Mesa where violent crime has climbed. Are these legitimate criticisms of the sheriff's approach to immigration and the use of his resources?

George Gascon:
They're very legitimate criticisms. There's an area that I feel still have a hard time understanding is how people that would be generally very smart people, very sophisticate and are willing to overlook a great deal of incompetence by the office of the sheriff department in this county in how they deal with their primary function, which is the handling of the jails and certainly policing the unincorporated areas of the county, or those areas that are under contract to them. Crime in the areas that are being policed by the sheriff's department has continued to go up for the last several years. At the same time, the neighboring cities and certainly in Mesa crime has gone down. You have to ask yourself if the techniques that he's using, and if illegal immigration is the problem, and the reason for crime here, you would have to assume that his style of policing would reduce crime as opposed to have the increments of crime that he has experienced. We know in policing that what he's doing makes absolutely no sense. It's contrary to good community policing, it's contrary to good policing in general. There have been cases where they've actually classified homicides as suicides when they're clearly a homicide in the way they occurred. There are horror story upon horror story of malpractice and policing within the Maricopa County sheriff's office. And yet he continues to get it passed. And you have people that genuinely believe that he's the only one doing anything about crime. How they are -- how they reach that conclusion is really something that I have no way of explaining.

Jose Cardenas:
One specific area of difference of opinion between you and the sheriff has been with the impact in having people be willing to come forward and work with the police if have you an aggressive immigration enforcement policy. You think it deters cooperation. The sheriff thinks differently. We have a clip from him, a recent appearance on "Horizon" where he discusses on that show.

Ted Simons:
Mesa police chief Gascon was there in Washington, he was invited to speak.

Joe Arpaio:
By the activists I'm sure.

Ted Simons:
Yes. And he said your policies killed the trust for law enforcement until Latino areas. How do you respond to that?

Joe Arpaio:
Really? I have a lot of illegals that call me and give me information. How do you think we're getting into all these workplaces? Its illegal aliens that come to us and give us information. So it doesn't -- people still talk to us. It doesn't matter, because if they give good information there's a system with I.C.E. that will help those people.

Jose Cardenas:
Chief, you basically dismissed your concerns. What's your response?

George Gascon:
I think not only my response, but the response of most professional police leadership in this country and there's plenty of evidence to support what I say, that when local police engages in the enforcement of immigration, the enforcement of federal laws in certain neighborhoods, those neighborhoods have a tendency to shut down and not communicate with the police. I can tell you in the case of Mesa -- when I first got here, there was a great deal of mistrust. People not wanting to come to the police department, even today when there's the word of the rumors come up at the sheriff's department is coming around the neighborhoods, people will shut down, people will not communicate with the police. I think his position that people will still come and talk to him, it's really completely outside what most people in the profession would say today as far as being able to have people communicating with us. Unquestionably there might be something with an axe to grind against somebody else and they report people working in a particular workplace, those things are always going to go on. But to say he has the trust of the community, that is completely false. If you look at what the people in the community are saying about him. And the reality is, if you go back again and you look at the performance of the sheriff's department, and you look at their rise in crime, their inability to investigate crimes, all that's connected to the fact that people are not willing to work with the sheriff department in order to clear crimes.

Jose Cardenas:
Now, chief, you make reference to professional police procedures, and in the past you've suggested a difference between your approaches taken by the quote unquote professionals and elected sheriffs who may be doing things for other reasons. Would you elaborate?

George Gascon:
You know, one of the problems we have seen in many parts of the country, and I have to be very careful, because there's unquestionably many sheriff's office and many sheriffs around this country that are very professional people. They're good solid law enforcement officers. But because of the system for counsel -- where county sheriffs are elected, we have seen many times that when you have some areas of difficulties with the practices of policing sometimes those involve sheriff's office, and of course Maricopa County is the most clear example of unprofessional policing, and there's no question the sheriff is always pandering to certain tapes of public opinion in order for him to become and continue to be as popular as he is.

Jose Cardenas:
There's several things to touch we've only got a couple minutes left. As we tape this interview, we're in the middle after three-day crime suppression sweep by the sheriff. Chandler, Mesa, and I think Gilbert. Sheriff had promised Mesa and apparently according to the newspapers have promised officials in Chandler that he would give notice. Did he?

George Gascon:
Well, we got a call about 8:00 in the morning yesterday that he was coming over. Because we have sources inside the sheriff's office, very close to the sheriff, we knew about a week ahead of time unofficially that he was thinking about coming. But the problem with those -- that information, until you get it confirmed from the office, it's hard to act upon. The reality of the notification at 8:00 in the morning, that is not nearly enough time for us to prepare, especially if he starts generating the kind of protests he has in other hoe indications. Very, very problematic for us.

Jose Cardenas:
And chief, as I mentioned, we're in the second day of this being Friday, the 24th of July, of the sweeps. And seeing already apparently some impact of the new 287G guidelines. But the reports are that the Sheriff has had to release three people suspected of being here illegally because they -- he arrested them but they were merely passengers in the car. Is this the beginning of the end perhaps of the sheriff's crime suppression sweeps?

George Gascon:
I think it's certainly going to have an impact. At this time really speaks to the other part of the problem that we have been talking for a long time. The reason why he had to release these three people is because he had no probable cause in the first place. So base 80 what he did is he committed -- he arrested three people illegally, and the federal government said, you know, the fact they were not arrested through the procedure having probable cause to make the arrest in the first place, we're not going to take them.

Jose Cardenas:
Chief, we're just about out of time. Final words?

George Gascon:
I just want to say that I -- this has been an incredible three years for me, very rewarding. Tremendous growth, personally and professionally. I think this is a great place, there are great people here. And I would hope that the growth and the development of law enforcement that we have experienced in the last three years will continue. And will continue professional policing in the state.

Jose Cardenas:
Thank you for being a guest on "Horizonte." And best of luck to you in San Francisco.

George Gascon:
Thank you so much.

Jose Cardenas talks with former Mesa Police Chief George Gascon. Find out what the Chief has to say about his accomplishments with Mesa Police, immigration, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and more.

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