After six months on the job, Mesquite Police Chief MaQuade Chesley says he wants to “humanize the badge and put people first with the mission second.”
That strong sense of personal concern could be what helped his selection as a recipient of the 4th annual “40 Under 40” award program from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The 38-year old chief described his first six months as having been a “wild ride and pretty stressful.” While he says there are still things that can be improved, he feels that strong progress has been made in changing the culture of the police department and instituting new goals and visions.
In an exclusive interview with the Mesquite Local News, Chesley laid out his managerial philosophy using what he calls “four pillars of success” – professionalism, accountability, building better relationships with other departments and the public, and proactive policing.
“If we can do well with our professionalism, we can do well with everything else,” he said. “If all of us treat others with professionalism, we’re always going to be in a good state. That extends not just to our fellow officers but also to the public and to other departments we work with in the city.”
He points to perception problems across the nation between police departments and the public. “I think the crisis we’re having in the U.S. where officers are being killed or shot almost daily is because of the lack of humanization of the badge. Mesquite police have done a really good job with their community relationships. But, sometimes people see us as these robotic officers who are just out there writing tickets or otherwise doing our job.
“I don’t think they see us as sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters. That’s something I really want to push and we’re trying to do more of that with our social media platform. We’re showing them we’re humans just like them.”
Chesley says it’s not the “top cop” that makes the department successful. “It’s the men and women working out on the streets, animal control, detention center staff, the dispatch people helping someone on the phone, the people at the front desk who talk to those who come into the building. That’s who makes our department successful.”
The Mesquite City Council changed a controversial residency requirement after Chesley was appointed. Before, all city employees, especially those in public safety, were required to live within 15 miles of the city limits. That restriction was removed earlier this spring.
“When I was appointed, we were down five officers. That’s a whole complete shift with four officers and a supervisor. Our other officers were being denied days off, vacation time and were being run ragged,” the chief said. “I was sick and tired of running the crews at two or maybe three people. That wasn’t fair to the community, the officers, or their families.”
He explained the residency requirement restricted the number of new recruits available in the local area. “Once we found a qualified applicant, we had to send the person to the police academy, pay for that, and then work with them in the field. It would take us 14 to 18 months to get the person qualified and up to standards. Even then, the person wouldn’t have an extensive amount of experience in policing.”
Once the residency requirement was lifted, Chesley hired five officers from other police departments, primarily southern Utah. “I had an officer with 10 years’ experience in Washington County apply for one of our openings. We hired him and he immediately went to work. We now can get officers faster, with less cost and with a higher quality,” the chief said.
He used another example of how badly the residency requirement was hurting the police department and the city. “We hired a new recruit and paid for his police academy training. Once he finished his training he left our department and went to work for Las Vegas Metro. So we lost all the time and all the money to train him without any benefit,” Chesley said.
“I want the best, most qualified person. I want to hire based on qualifications and not residency. A 10-year officer is much better than a brand-new officer.”
Chesley said several of the new officers have either moved to Mesquite or are contemplating it.
Another advantage the chief said he sees from hiring officers laterally from another department is that he can dive into the person’s background and work record to determine if they would be a good fit. “You can get a bad apple from a lateral hire and you can get a bad apple from a new hire. But with a lateral applicant, you can see their record. That helps us tremendously. We’ve turned down a couple applicants because we weren’t comfortable with their work record.”
Probably the most important reason he gave as an advantage to fully staffing his department is the ability to have more proactive policing. “When we had a shortage, it affected the way our officers could operate. If they were on their way to a domestic violence call and saw someone going 50 in a 25 mile an hour zone, the officer had to make a decision to keep on the domestic call and not pursue the other offender. Now, he can call another officer and have them pursue the second offender.”
He said proactive policing requires more “on-the-street” officers and “it allows the public to see us more often.”
When he talked about the award he just won as one of “40 under 40” Chesley said he never imagined he would one day hold the top position in the police department. “I never wanted to be a police chief. I just wanted to do my job the best that I could in whatever position I had at the time.”