Police Chief James Hughes
Maricopa Police Chief James Hughes, shown here in a file photo, shared statistics at Tuesday's city council meeting illustrating a dramatic drop in police use of force incidents in 2020. Photo by Victor Moreno

In a ceremony attended by family, friends and city officials, Commander James Hughes was officially sworn in Tuesday night as Maricopa’s newest chief of police, replacing retiring long-time chief Steve Stahl.

Hughes was one of the first people hired when Stahl became chief in 2012. His 34-year career in law enforcement began in Mendham Township, New Jersey, at the age of 19. The decision to come to Maricopa from a position as executive officer of the Honolulu Police Commission in Hawaii was made very quickly, he said.

“About two minutes into the interview with Chief Stahl I had made my decision,” he said. “And how far we’ve come as a city in the eight-and-a-half years I’ve been here, and how far we’ve come as a police department is amazing. The chief and I would talk for hours about how we could better serve the city.”

“But this isn’t about me,” he added. “This is about service to the community. It’s about duty and responsibility. In the words of Mayor Price and Councilman Wade, it’s about the public trust, it’s about being there for your community and taking us to where we can continue to grow with the community.”

Hughes said he would not be chief without Stahl, both literally and figuratively.

“Chief Stahl, it’s safe to say, I would not be here without you,” Hughes said, addressing his mentor. “Not only did you hire me, bring me here, you mentored me, and you developed the requisite skills that I needed to be a chief of police. It’s funny, as a lieutenant in my town in New Jersey with 25 years of service, I thought I was chief of police material. I was not. It took the chief eight-and-a-half years of molding me into a vision of himself to get me ready for this.

“My promise to you, chief, is that we will continue what we started here, we will maintain our vision of how to finish what we’ve started here. We will continue our outreach to the community, continue our passion for this profession, our passion and commitment for our officers, our employees and volunteers and that goes without saying.”

City manager Rick Horst said he is looking forward to building on his relationship with Hughes.

“The relationship between the city manager and the police chief is very entwined,” he said. “Because both are in high pressure, high stress situations and sometimes we just have to have someone we can vent with and let some of the steam off. I can assure you this appointment comes to the right man at the right time to carry forward all the work that has been started for the next decade or so.”

Horst lauded Stahl for his accomplishments and the way he carried out his duties.“Public service is a place where you can bring your talent, your ability, your sense of responsibility and your personal pride knowing you can make a difference and serve your community,” Horst said, noting the immense kindness of the man. “That is what Chief Stahl has done. He has provided a sense of integrity, and he has used his knowledge to deliver for this community.”

In his remarks, Stahl reflected fondly on his time as chief, saying the support he received was a key to his success and the success of the department. He thanked his wife, Liz, for her support over the years.

Hughes is more than ready for the task ahead, Stahl added.

“I’m humbled because I got to work in an organization that was appreciated internally and externally,” he said. “That is not often found and is something this city needs to continue to hold close – very close. Because it’s fragile, it’s fleeting, and it’s one bad moment away from not being accepting internally or externally.

“We’re not there yet, and we’re a long way from there,” he continued. “But there’s no doubt in my mind, the hard work that we’ve put in together, the hard work you (Hughes) have put in yourself, there’s no doubt in my mind Chief Hughes is ready for this assignment. And there’s no doubt in my mind that he is going to put himself second in all decisions that he makes. That’s all he knows how to do.”

Stahl offered some advice on working closely with city officials that he gained during his tenure that felt helped propel the department and the city to new heights.

“Keep daring to be great, keep daring to be the best,” he said. “be inventive, don’t be afraid of failure, because failure really doesn’t exist. It’s just a mistake that can be corrected by doing it differently next time. Dare to be great.”