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Former Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner officially stepped into the private sector this week, beginning his new role as Grand Canyon University’s director of public safety.

Yahner retired from the force in late 2016, spending the last two years of his three-decade career at the helm of the Phoenix Police Department. He was credited for steadying an agency that had been shaken by the controversies and ultimate firing of Yahner’s predecessor, then-Chief Daniel V. Garcia.  

In a Wednesday press briefing on the GCU campus, Yahner underscored his roots in the community, both personal and professional.

“I’m a native. I grew up here, I was Maryvale precinct commander for a number of years,” he said. “So when this job came up, I was very interested in it.”

Director of public safety is a new position for the university, said GCU President Brian Mueller. The school previously had both a security department and a police department, and officials were looking for someone to “oversee the whole thing and make it a coordinated effort,” Mueller said.

Mueller said the effort to hire Yahner moved quickly, only beginning about three weeks ago. Yahner came at the recommendation of his former boss, City Manager Ed Zuercher, Mueller said.   

GCU has taken on a leadership role in the community in the past few years, partnering with the city of Phoenix in an effort to reduce crime in the surrounding neighborhood. The initiative supported volunteer efforts that targeted the roots of crime, invested in local businesses and opened a tutoring center for surrounding schools.

MORE:  Crime rates in west Phoenix fall after GCU, police initiative

Yahner said the university was expanding so rapidly that his first order of duty was just to “sit back and learn.”

“It’s growing so much; there’s opportunity to grow with it as a police department, as a public-safety entity,” he said. “GCU is a fast-moving place, so just trying to keep up is going to be a big challenge for me.”

Yahner retired from the Phoenix Police Department in October, handing the reigns to current Chief Jeri Williams. He spent about seven months in retirement.

“I would have stayed retired had this opportunity not come up,” he said. “This is a golden opportunity for me.”


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