Two unions representing Mesa police officers have initiated a "no confidence" vote against Chief Ramon Batista.
Ballots will cast until May 17 and then votes will be delivered to the Mesa City Council.
Union representatives discuss morale within the department is extremely low.
Some officers are upset with Chief Batista's response to a high-profile "use of force" case "condemning" the officers to the media before disciplinary investigations were completed.
On Friday afternoon, Chief Batista issued the following statement:
“We are aware that a labor organization — working with a marketing firm — has initiated a poll of our officers. It is important to remember that their agenda does not represent the entire Mesa Police Department.
I’m committed to leading this department and I stand by my officers as they carry out their duties to protect and serve this city. The support from our community could not have been made clearer as they passed a public safety sales tax to ensure we have the staffing and equipment to keep them safe.
I’m also very proud that the backing from our city’s elected officials is second to none. Each member continues to show their unwavering support; most recently, Mayor and council attended our Employee Quarterly Awards and helped us honor our Fallen Officers. As a result of several years of incredible work, Mesa is now recognized as one of the safest large cities in America. Our crime rates are at historic lows.
I am proud to serve the residents of the City of Mesa as the Police Chief, and I am honored to lead the great men and women of the Mesa Police Department, those who work day and night to protect our community, these are the reasons I love my profession.”
Mesa Mayor John Giles also issued a statement Friday evening:
“The Mayor and Mesa City Council fully support the brave women and men of the Mesa Police Department, including Chief Batista and his leadership team. The tireless work of our officers has brought Mesa’s crime level to historic lows and made it one of the safest big cities in America.”
So how did the department get to this point?
When Batista was hired there was a cry to change the culture within the Mesa Police Department by members of the community.
Batista was the choice of city leaders and citizens who were part of the interview process. Community members were invited to meet and interview all four finalists for the job, before Batista got the vote, making him the third police chief in Mesa in the last nine years. His predecessor, John Meza, lasted two years. Mesa Police Association leaders were in support of two internal candidates who were also vying for the job.
Instead, the city hired the new guy from Tucson. Batista previously led a department that is nationally acclaimed for putting mental health training at the forefront. His first time addressing the community, Batista said: "My expectation of our officers is going to be that they go out there and be the very best they can be."
His hire was right on the heels of a controversial officer-involved shooting involving a man visiting from Texas. Former Mesa police officer Philip Brailsford was charged with murder, for shooting Daniel Shaver on January 18th, 2016. Brailsford was acquitted of the crime.
For the last few months, many community leaders in the City of Mesa have been calling for a "change in the culture" of the Mesa Police Department.
"This is a culture that has been accepted within the city of Mesa," said Pastor Andre Miller after a questionable use of force incident by Mesa police. Several excessive use of force complaints were followed by marches and protests outside the Mesa Police Department.
"I don't know if the police are just going to roll up on you and just start beating the crap out of you, you know," said one man who participated in the protest.
Batista said rebuilding trust in the community was paramount to him when he took over as chief.
Under his watch, more incidents have continued to take place, where the community has questioned officers' use of force. One involving an 84-year old grandmother who says she was "roughed up" by officers after calling them to check up on her grandson. Another involving a juvenile who was accused of robbing a convenience store.
The one that served as the final straw for many rank and file police officers was an incident involving an unarmed black man who was punched by a police officer for not obeying orders. Nine officers were put on paid administrative leave following the incident with Robert Johnson. Several of those officers have faced different levels of discipline by outside agencies, something the police association does not support, saying officers have to control violent situations, and these officers were just doing their job.
Police association leaders were concerned with statements made by Chief Batista after the incidents were released to the media. They also questioned the chief's actions of releasing body camera video to the media, without an investigation being conducted first.
In interviews with our reporter, Batista said he found the level of force used in the videos troubling, and that those actions represented "the good work done every day" by all officers.
More than 500 Mesa police officers took a survey put out by the Mesa police association, rating trust in the chief and morale within the department is very low. Here is a link to that survey.
Five pages were removed, which list names and badge numbers of Mesa police officers to protect their privacy.