Retired chief of the Modesto Police Department, Mike Harden recently accepted a short-term assignment in Escalon, agreeing to serve as the city’s interim police chief. The Times recently posed the new chief several questions, from his background to his hopes for the local department to how officers are viewed in the community. Following is that ‘Q&A’ session.
Q – What prompted you to take on the role of Interim Police Chief for Escalon?
A – I love what police officers do to serve and protect a community. I’ve spent over 35 years in law enforcement from an Explorer up to the Chief of Police in Modesto. When I was asked to serve Escalon as their Interim Police Chief I was honored to once again use my experience and training to serve a community and to lead officers in their pursuit to make Escalon an even safer city and the police department an even more transparent, professional and responsive police department.
How do you view your role, whether it be maintaining the status quo or bringing changes to the organization?
As an Interim Police Chief you must constantly evaluate not only what we do as a police department but also how we do it. To that end, I have recognized areas where we can strengthen our service delivery to the community and made those changes immediately. At the same time, I’m mindful of my role as an Interim Police Chief and recognize long-term changes that might impact the entire department and/or the community should probably be evaluated and started by a new full-time Police Chief. I will share my observations with the new full-time chief and allow him/her to consider my suggested changes after he/she has had their own opportunity to evaluate the programs and our service delivery model.
What is your background in law enforcement?
I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration and I attended the FBI National Academy and the California P.O.S.T Command College. I’ve worked a number of different assignments from patrol officer, vice officer, Homicide Sergeant, Watch Commander and worked the last 10 years at Modesto Police Department as either the Assistant Police Chief or Police Chief.
How does this department ‘measure up’ to others you have worked with, in terms of number of personnel to serve the city?
I have been very impressed with the level of commitment and dedication of everyone at the police department, sworn and civilian personnel alike. The employees are committed to providing a professional and competent level of service and they recognize the importance of working in a partnership with the community. There is an old Peelian Principle that says “the police are the public and the public are the police,” and I believe that to be even more accurate today as I look at how the Escalon Police Department works and interacts with the community.
In the short time you have been here, what has impressed you most about the department and its officers?
The officers recognize the limited staffing and are very cognizant of how their attendance is important to their fellow officers but also the community they serve. Use of sick leave and last minute requests for extra time off are minimal. Everyone is dedicated to serve and serve with honor and distinction. They are very committed to serve the residents of Escalon and nearly all of them view their role as a complete public servant, not just an enforcer of the law. While the department is small and the pace and volume of calls for service is not what I was used to because my relative experience is in a much larger city, the competency and level of professionalism of the officers exceed or match those of other departments I have observed.
Do you feel the department is well-regarded by the community and, if not, what steps can be made to change that?
It is my impression the community supports the police department. I am not naïve that statutory regulations, the emotion of a highly charged event and in some cases substance abuse by offenders might hinder our ability to please everyone, but the vast majority of persons I have had the occasion to speak with are very complimentary of the work of the Escalon Police Department.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle the department faces? (Budget, officer retention, etc.)
Much like all other police departments in California, the Escalon Police Department is facing a serious staffing shortage. Additional officers would improve upon our flexibility and maneuverability and allow us to do different things that would improve upon service delivery including our ability to follow-up on reported crime and to engage the community in other non-traditional ways.
Do you feel the department does a good job in working to protect the city from outside influences, i.e., influx of crime/criminals from the larger metro areas of nearby Stockton and Modesto?
While no community is ever going to rid itself of crime in its entirety, I am quite impressed with the rather low level of crime in Escalon. I believe the low crime level in Escalon is directly attributable to the residents who live here, who raise a family here and who care greatly about the quality of life. The police officers take their role in preventing crime very seriously. Residents should remain “on guard” all the time because even a community that enjoys a low level of crime can be easily victimized by an opportunist who preys upon those who might make themselves vulnerable.
What message would you like to share with the community about yourself and the department's mission?
The department is committed to working in conjunction with the community in an effort to eliminate crime and disorder. As a general rule, preventing crime on the front end and pushing it out of Escalon in the first place is a much better way to use resources rather than use those same limited resources to investigate a crime once someone has been victimized. The department will focus on delivering a strong and consistent crime prevention message and will grow our communication efforts to the community and Neighborhood Watch Programs that serve to allow residents to watch out for each other.