Let’s start with your path into law enforcement. Did you have a lot of family members in the field?
Actually no. I had a cousin who was in law enforcement, but that’s it. My path started from my military service. I served in the Marines, stationed overseas and in Southern California for six years. For four of those years I was a supply clerk, but the other two I worked in a unit which relocated prisoners. In that role I interacted with numerous law enforcement professionals and that really ignited my interest in the field. I took some criminal justice courses at Santa Ana College while in the Marine Corps. One of my instructors was a former police chief. He encouraged me to consider a career in law enforcement – we are still in contact today.
My wife and I became parents early, and didn’t really want to relocate overseas. In fact, we both had a desire to go back to Arizona, where I grew up and had family. At the end of my enlistment in the Marine Corps, I applied and was hired with the Mesa Police Department in the late 90’s and that began my law enforcement career.
Tell me about your time in Mesa, and where that led you.
I served in a number of capacities in Mesa: patrol officer, school resource officer, bicycle patrol and became a general instructor. All of my posts were uniformed. I also attained my Bachelor’s Degree in Education while serving in Mesa. In 2006, after serving about 8.5 years in Mesa, I was given an opportunity to help start a new police department in Maricopa, AZ. The thought of relocating to a less busy part of metropolitan area of the Phoenix area appealed to my wife and I, and the challenge of starting a new department was of particular interest to me. At the time, Maricopa had just two other law enforcement professionals on board, the chief and deputy chief, both from the Phoenix Police Department. My badge was number three.
Maricopa already had 40,000 residents when we formed the department. In the early days we were really just getting the basic structure in place: ordering supplies; including guns, uniforms, cruisers, etc. We had a strong focus on hiring. We also had to instill a culture into this young department. Every officer we hired came from somewhere else and was used to a different culture and general way of doing things. This was probably the biggest challenge in Maricopa at the time.
After helping to start 24/7 patrol functions in Maricopa, and working in patrol for over two years, I was given the opportunity to be a basic academy training sergeant at both the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy and the Central Arizona Regional Law Officer Training Academy. Following these assignments, I became the advanced training sergeant for the department.
Due to connections I had made working in the regional academy setting, I was approached by the Gila River Police Department, which is a tribal department. They liked my experience level from Maricopa, as Gila River was rebuilding and growing rapidly. I joined Gila River as a patrol commander and was in charge of a number of functions including the community action team, dispatch, patrol and school resource officers. During this time, I completed my Masters Degree in Administration.
My wife and I had a house in northern Arizona so we decided to relocate north and where joined the Navajo County Sheriff’s department where I was looking for a slower pace of life. I was planning to retire from Navajo County and live a quiet life in the White Mountains of Arizona. But after serving as a basic academy training supervisor at Northeastern Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy, I decided I wasn’t ready to retire.
I was later informed by a friend that St. Johns, Arizona was looking for a police chief, and I was encouraged to look into the opportunity to serve there. I met with the city manager in St. Johns, and he liked that I had experience building up a police department. When I started as the St. Johns Chief, there were only two officers working. I remained in St. Johns for three years and had to rebuild the department, both physically and in reputation. I had a group of talented, hard working men and women that helped me do just that. While I was at St. Johns I attended the FBI National Academy. I also served as the secretary and later president of the Northeast Arizona Police Association, which represented agency heads in my region.
I later took the Police Chief position in Winslow, which is in the same region where I was already serving. That was a great help to me starting with Winslow, as I was aware of the department and some of the issues they had recently encountered. I’ve now been with Winslow close to a year a half now, and I like it very much. In Winslow I started a citizen liaison committee and have been working on getting the department accredited. In January, 2018 I became an executive board member for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and currently serves as the 3rd Vice-President. I also serve as the Vice-Chairman of Arizona’s newly implemented state-wide accreditation commission.
You are a young chief at 44 – but, looking back, what are the key lessons learned in your career so far?
One lesson I feel I learned is, as Chief, you are the head coach. When I started in Winslow, I heard about a number of issues employees didn’t like. I encouraged people to solve problems and not just identify them. If you don’t like it – fix it. This tends to be quite effective for millennials – they like to be in charge and have responsibility for improving something. I also believe that engaging the community in a transparent manner is very important. We have had two officer involved shootings in 2018, but without any major fallout with the community due to proactively engaging the community via social media while being as transparent as possible with the details of the incidents.
Another key learning is to embrace technology. Corporations are always keeping up with technology and using it to gain advantage; we in law enforcement should be doing the same. Technology can result in meaningful and efficient change which can streamline processes and minimize wasteful man hours. This shows the community we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
I also think one thing chiefs need to focus on is attracting good people by focusing more on what we can do for our employees. When employees know you truly care about them and their well-being, they want to work for you. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s a good-sized department could have up to 500 applicants each month. Now it’s far more competitive and attracting good candidates is increasingly difficult. To set a positive work place atmosphere, it’s important to “get out there” – walk around, be visible. For example, I routinely work a patrol shift with my officers and supervisors. Younger officers like to see leadership in action. They want to know that their leader is willing to do what he or she is asking them to do. The stoic, distant chief really isn’t impactful anymore.
Winslow very rarely has openings and it’s not money which is the cause of that, it’s support, technology and a positive working atmosphere. Officers are not afraid to do their job because they know I will support them as long as their actions are moral, ethical, legal and within policy. Winslow offers strong career and emotional support. We care about our officers and they know and appreciate that. We still have a way to go on this front, but I really believe it’s not the falling down that matters, it’s how quickly you pick yourself back up. Being in touch with your people counts more now than ever. The younger officers will stay engaged and focused if they feel the Chief and command staff really does care about them.
Thanks for your time today Dan.