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Sent on Mormon-News: 16Apr01

By Kent Larsen

LDS Mother of Three is Mesa's Top Cop

MESA, ARIZONA -- Take the stereotype; the stern,distant man with a military demeanor directing patrolmen to each crisis; and throw it out the window, at least in Mesa, Arizona. The Chief of Police in this historically Mormon suburb of Phoenix is LDS Church member Jan Strauss, a divorced mother of three with 26 years of law enforcement experience. Strauss told the Arizona Republic Sunday that her faith helps her in her job.

"I don't know how anybody could do this job without faith, if they didn't have somewhere to kind of redeem the feeling that people are not all bad. We really do get jaded in law enforcement because we deal with bad people all the time and we deal with good people only in the worst of situations. We never see good people when they're happy. For me, I'm just a strong believer. I pray a lot. I pray over my decisions."

Strauss, 54, got the top cop job in May 1998 and immediately had to face a nasty situation. Three officers had shot and killed two people in a stolen car in front of a convenience store. A disciplinary board recommended charges against the officers, but Strauss reviewed the situation and went against the board, clearing the officers. This is not to say that Strauss always favors officers. In her nearly three years on the job, she has apologized to two people who were arrested in error and launched an internal investigation into complaints of racial, gender and religious discrimination. Before the investigation was complete, nine officers filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city, claiming that the police hierarchy favored Mormons.

Of course, its Strauss' gender that is most unusual. "At police chief conferences, there's only one or two of us," said Strauss. Numbers from the National Association of Women in Law Enforcement Executives say that of 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the US, just 225 women head police forces and sheriff's departments (about 75 police chiefs are at Universities).

But while her gender is unusual, its her style that wins admiration from her supporters. "Police chiefs are often not well liked because of the positions they have to make. But as a person, she's well liked," says Mesa City Councilman Mike Whalen. "Her attention to detail is one of her greatest assets. Every time you needed a project done, you just gave it to Jan, and she got it done." Fellow Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, head of the council's Police Committee, agrees, noting Strauss "has stepped into a job that is a pressure cooker for anyone in it. It's a difficult job to undertake and often the police chief's health deteriorates. I think she has handled it with grace and stoicism and come through some difficult challenges very well."

And Strauss has also changed the focus of the department significantly, taking a multidisciplinary approach to fighting crime. She created a "Center Against Family Violence," a separate office that gives victims of abuse and sex crimes a more comforting place to go, instead of the police stations, where the presence of metal detectors and armed police officers sometimes intimidates or scares victims. "I believe in the concept of being as victim-friendly as we can." She has also established a Citizen's Police Academy, where the public can learn about what law enforcement is all about.

Strauss has also moved the police towards hiring a different sort of police officer. "We're really looking for someone with excellent communication skills," she says. "I'm not as concerned whether someone can scale a 6-foot wall as whether someone can talk to people and de-escalate a situation."

But in spite of Strauss' obvious skills, the future of the department is far from easy. The city faces a budget crunch this year, and since the police make up 20% of the budget, Strauss will likely have to make some cuts. Programs considered nonessential, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education and Gang Resistance Education and Training may be the first to go, but with the allegations and arrests last year among the Devil Dogs gang in Mesa's southern neighbor, Gilbert, such cuts may make the department's job more difficult.


Style, not gender, sets Mesa police chief apart
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 15Apr01 T2
By Betty Beard: Arizona Republic

See also:
Mesa Police Officers Claim Discrimination By LDS Superiors

LA Times Says Mormons in Gilbert, AZ In Denial Over Gang Violence


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