Mesa Police Unions Face Backlash Over Their Anti-Chief Campaign

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Police Unions in Mesa, AZ Gang Up on Their Chief, Face Public Rebuke

Reports of infighting between Mesa police unions and the Chief of Police Ramon Batista have continued to pour in without relief. The Union, despite the city virtually ignoring their earlier no-confidence vote, took this internal brawl to feverish pitch with a community meeting this Friday.

“Everything that happens in public safety affects all of you,” exclaimed Nate Gafvert, President of Mesa Police Association. “It affects all of us!”

The community meeting called on by Mesa Police Association and The Mesa Fraternal Order of Police drew about four dozen people at Mesa Convention Center. Though the Unions have been criticizing Chief Batista for a while now, this was the first instance of dragging the whole cache of dirty laundry out in the public.

Gafvert said he had tried to avoid playing this out in public under media spotlight but since the City ignored their no-confidence vote, last month, they were left with no choice.

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The two unions, collectively represent nearly all of the 1,252 employees of the department. They have accused Chief Batista of abandoning rank-and-file in an attempt to appeal to the public as he tries to reform Mesa’s scandal-ridden police force. Unions want the Chief to resign arguing his actions have led to low morale, nepotism allegations, unnecessary training changes, poor officer retention, and a number of other issues. Gafvert said these issues were unhinging the department’s ability to help Mesa residents.

“If the officers aren’t happy, we’re going to provide a lesser service on our job,” justified Gafvert. He continued, “It’s unfortunate that our community members get the negative part of that.”

The attendants at Mesa Community Center were unimpressed with the show Union’s brought to them. To them, it seemed like the hue and cry was less about the Chief and more about justifying the Department’s dwindling relationship with the public. There were some who condemned Chief Batista for sending officers out onto the streets without the necessary support

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Road to a Department Sans Batista

Friday’s meeting was one of many steps Unions are taking to uproot their Chief. A public campaign worth $30,000 to lobby and convince Mesa residents to help them apply pressure on the City. This campaign comes in the wake of a recently launched website titled “Keep Mesa Safe” with plans to erect anti-chief billboards around town.

Chris Brady, the City Manager, with the ultimate jurisdiction over Chief’s tenure has previously told the local paper, Arizona Republic, that he has confidence in Chief Batista’s abilities. “It’s clear the city has work to do in engaging its employees,” paraphrasing Brady, “about how we can work on things at the Police Department.”

The no-confidence vote is non-binding yet an effective portrayal of the Union’s unhappiness with their Chief.

Why do Unions Dislike Chief Batista

Robert Johnson, a 33-year-old man (center)
Robert Johnson, unarmed, was brutally hit by Officers of Mesa Police Department

On June 6, 2018, Mesa Police released bodycam footage showing officers punching and kneeing an unarmed Robert Johnson.
In another video, two officers were seen roughing up a 15-year-old armed-robbery suspect after the boy was handcuffed.

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Chief Batista, in a press conference last June, called the actions unacceptable and pledged changes. The comments were made before Scottsdale Police investigated the cases and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office ultimately decided not to file any charges against the officers involved.

Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista holds a press conference June 8, 2018, to talk about a third incident within a week that Mesa police have received backlash regarding their use of force.
June 8, 2018: Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista holds a press conference to talk about the third incident within a week that received backlash over excessive use of force.
 (Photo: Nick Oza/The Republic)

Gafvert has previously stated Chief Batista’s public condemnation of multiple Mesa Police officers involved in two use-of-force incidents. He has argued that 564 sworn and civilian Police Department employees participated in the no-confidence vote – with 95% of employees saying they’d no confidence in their chief.

Batista is a long-time veteran of the Department starting his career back in 1986 with the Tucson Police Department. He was stationed there as Tucson’s Assistant Chief before his appointment as Mesa Police Chief in July 2017.

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