Garden City police chief hangs up holster after 32 years with department

One of the longest-serving police chiefs in the state, James Bensley kept a low-profile – rarely seeking the public eye – during his 14-year tenure as Garden City chief.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that it was with little fanfare that the 50-year-old hung up his holster in March, after 32 years with the department.

“He didn’t want a big deal made out of it. He just kind of rode off into the sunset,” Mayor John Evans said.

Bensley is part of a broader changing of the guard at Ada County law enforcement agencies. Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson retired in January, and Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney announced that he’ll be leaving the department in June for a job with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rick Allen, who has been with the Garden City Police Department for 22 years and was deputy chief under Bensley, is now serving as interim chief. No decision has been made on Bensley’s replacement, or if there will be a candidate search.

Evans said Bensley spoke about retirement during the past couple of years and, in December, notified city officials that he’d step down in March.

Garden City’s police chief oversees 36 staff, including 27 full-time officers, two code enforcement officers and two probation and parole officers. The department has a budget of about $4 million – about 60 percent of the overall city budget of $6.9 million. Bensley’s salary at retirement was $127,000 a year. Rick Allen earns $112,500 and has not received a boost in pay since being named interim chief, City Administrator/Treasurer Jim Krueger said.

Garden City is a small city – about 11,000 people – with a high crime rate. The city ranked fourth for serious crimes in Idaho in 2013, according to Idaho State Police’s 2013 Crime in Idaho report, the most recent data available. Boise ranked 20th for serious crimes.

The good news from the report was that crime was down almost 5 percent from 2012 to 2013. There were 1,215 total offenses in 2013, and the department cleared nearly 64 percent of them – a higher case-resolution rate than many other departments. The top crime categories were larceny, drugs/narcotics, drug equipment and simple assault.

Bensley told the Statesman Friday that he believes community policing policies drafted in 2003 contributed to cutting the city’s crime rate in half between 2002 and 2009. Data show more than 2,000 offenses in 2002, and 1,011 in 2009.

Bensley began his career with the department as a reserve officer at 18, after earning his GED in the early 1980s. He worked his way up through the ranks, and he’s proud that he was selected to attend the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Va., in 2000.

Evans described Bensley as professional, organized, detail-oriented and a team player. “His legacy is that he really brought the Garden City Police Department to the point of being a highly respected professional organization that’s counted among the best in the state,” Evans said.

Bensley said he promised his wife that he wouldn’t get involved in a second career for six months. The couple, who have three children and four grandchildren, just returned from a trip to Mexico.

He said he misses the staff of the police department. “But I’m glad I moved on to the next chapter of my life,” he said.