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By Eric Graf
Arizona Republic

BUCKEYE, Ariz. - The Buckeye Police Department is making strides to transcend its sagging image after months of internal rifts, a police-chief search infused with politics and a lieutenant's messy departure.
The force may still lack a permanent leader, but interim Chief Mark Mann, who is in the running for the permanent post, has been busy working to stabilize the department and to draw talent.
The law-enforcement veteran, who spent most of his 27-year career with the New York Police Department, calls Buckeye "the place to be" and an "elite agency" in the making.
Since Mann took over in June, one of his goals has been boosting the level of experience in the department to make sure it can handle the growing community they serve. The town's population has mushroomed from about 6,000 in 2000 to roughly 40,000 now.
In the last five months alone, the department has hired eight officers who previously worked for the Phoenix and out-of-state police departments, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Mann said.
"We've shifted gears," he said. "We're not just growing the department with people just out of the academy. We're getting people coming in with unique training and certification."
There is also a renewed focus on working with the community, said interim Cmdr. Phil Harris.
"We have the desire to be the best agency we can be," he said, "to be a modern police agency with the heart of a servant that goes to the community and asks, 'What do you want?' We're trying to get back to grass roots."
Part of the fight to make Buckeye an elite force, Mann said, is to improve the public's perception by building on the work of his predecessor, Dan Saban, whose administration he said was marked by accountability and community involvement.
"There's this idea that we've got this Podunk P.D. here, but we're closing other cities' cases. They're not catching our guys, we're getting theirs," Mann said, referring to recent arrests of suspects in burglaries across the West Valley. "We're getting rid of that stigma and we're getting to the next level . . . while I'm in this chair."
The question over who gets the chief's chair has been lingering since May, when Saban retired to run for Maricopa County sheriff and Buckeye launched a national search.
The town named four finalists in late June but then backed off its top choice, a Chicago lawman.
The focus then shifted to Phoenix police Cmdr. Frank Milstead. When he removed his name from the running in August, Mayor Jackie Meck accused some Town Council members of interfering with the process.
"Buckeye has done a pretty outstanding job. The only part they screwed up was the interference by the council. . . . They cost us three months," said Buckeye resident Craig Heustis, who served on the interview panel in the first attempt to find a new chief. "I don't blame Milstead, but I do blame those council (members). It was just inexcusable."
In September, Mann had to temporarily put on hold his department reorganization after embattled Lt. Derek Arnson was fired and Cmdr. Jon Terpay resigned after six police employees, including Terpay, had accused Arnson of intimidation and harassment.
Mann's supporters in the department and on the council say his leadership has helped rebuild officers' morale since then.

Wire Service
 
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