New Mesa police chief wants to focus on fugitive problem

Read President Cota’s testimony at the legislature about unserved warrants & officer involved shootings HERE

Read the Goldwater Report that MPA assisted with HERE

Minutes after being sworn in as Mesa’s police chief, Frank Milstead said he hoped surrounding agencies would work with his department to haul scores of fugitives to justice.

Speaking to a roomful of city leaders and police officials from throughout the state, Milstead said law enforcement agencies need to work together to apprehend those wanted on felony warrants.

Those wanted from the law “place an incredible risk to those in uniform,” Milstead said. “We need to figure out a way to bring those numbers down.”

Since 2000, at least seven Arizona police officers and deputies have died in the line of duty at the hands of fugitives with outstanding warrants. Officers have taken point-blank gunfire and have been struck with vehicles driven by desperate fugitives intent on holding on to dwindling minutes of freedom.

“Some of them are bad people,” said Sgt. Bryan Soller, president of the Mesa and state chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police. “When you pull someone over and they think they’re going back to jail, they make bad choices and people die.”

There were about 38,000 outstanding felony warrants in Maricopa County as of January, according to the county Office. That number has dipped since last year, when about 40,000 were outstanding.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has taken heat from residents and local police agencies who believe deputies should focus on rounding up wanted fugitives rather than participating in immigration sweeps.

“I’m glad (Milstead’s) saying he wants to focus on warrants and arrest people in Mesa,” the sheriff said after Milstead’s swearing-in. “Not all of these are just the sheriff’s responsibility. We arrest people with warrants all the time.”

During the Sheriff’s Office’s most recent crime-suppression sweep last week, 400 deputies and sheriff’s posse members arrested 111 people on suspicion of various crimes.

Seventy-eight of those arrested were suspected of being in the country illegally, and 57 of those were booked on felony state human-smuggling charges, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The two-day operation also led deputies to 600 pounds of marijuana in Mesa, the sheriff’s office said. Ten arrests made during the sweep involved outstanding warrants.

Soller, whose labor organization represents about half of Mesa’s officers, said Milstead’s plan to meet with other police agencies was a positive decision.

“I think we need to do that,” Soller said. “We need to combine our resources. If you do that and get these people off the street, crime goes down.”

The Mesa Police Association, which also represents Mesa police officers, has for years argued for the Sheriff’s Office to be the lead agency to round up wanted suspects. That would help ensure officer safety, because about one-third of Mesa’s officer-involved shootings involved suspects with outstanding warrants, according to MPA figures.

From 2000 to 2008, there were 54 officer-involved shootings in Mesa, according to MPA. In 19 of those incidents the suspects had outstanding felony warrants, and six were wanted on misdemeanor warrants.