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Calexico Police Department
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Calexico Moves Closer to Filling Lieutenant Position

Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said he is often so busy with administrative work he is not as visible as a chief from one of the county’s largest departments as he would like.

“I love staying busy, but we do miss out on a lot of important meetings with other agencies and in the community because there’s only two of us,” Gerardo told the Calexico City Council on Nov. 6, referring to an increased workload he shares with a single lieutenant.

Gerardo went before the council to make his case to re-open an unfunded lieutenant position and promote from among his qualified sergeants and officers to fill the spot. To make that happen the chief proposed leaving vacant one of five open police officer positions to offset costs.

The council agreed, approving the chief’s proposal with a 4-0 vote. The measure includes spending up to $15,000 on an outside firm to administer the lieutenant test in-house. Council member Morris Reisen was absent from the meeting.

Gerardo pointed out to the council that nearly every other local law enforcement agency has at least two lieutenants or commanders under the chief. During a recent interview Gerardo said he is working alongside his operations lieutenant, who primarily oversees the patrol division.

He added he needs a support-services lieutenant. That position would oversee all nonsworn personnel, such as dispatchers, animal control officers and traffic-meter officers, the investigations unit, and the records and evidence divisions, as well as administer grants.

Benefits of Going In-house

To save the city money, Gerardo said he will promote from within his ranks exclusively. If none of his officers or sergeants can pass the lieutenants’ exam he will abandon the idea and leave the position vacant.

He said going in-house will help save up to $50,000 a year in overtime. Although a lieutenant would command a higher base salary, he or she would be an exempt employee no longer be eligible for the overtime pay sergeants and officers can earn.

Additionally, Gerardo told the council he wants to stay in-house “because nothing brings up the morale more than to promote from within. That tells your officers you are willing to give them a chance to prove themselves.”

Former Mayor Riles Chief

Former city mayor and council member Joong Kim made his usual appearance to criticize the council and staff stating,  “They say in Calexico, so many chiefs, but not enough Indians … Calexico needs more officers first.”

Kim riled up Gerardo and another police official when he started criticizing the decision to recruit from inside the department.

“When you go to management, you should have somebody proven from the outside,” Kim said.

Gerardo nearly ran back up to the dais to take Kim to task for insulting him and his officers.

“I rose up through the ranks to be chief,” Gerardo said, “and it’s insulting to my officers to say management can’t go in-house. Every city and the (county) Sheriff’s Office goes in-house for its management positions.”

Representing the Calexico Police Officers’ Association, Sgt. Sean Acuna, came up to show the association’s support for the chief’s plan, but he also turned his attention to Kim.

“History has shown that officers hired from the inside always flourish … What the chief talked about with morale being boosted, it’s so true,” he said. “It shows that command staff has confidence in its subordinates. Going from the outside has always been disastrous. We’ve had so many chiefs from other entities in the past that Calexico has never prospered from it.”

Retaining Officers a Challenge

Acuna also took the opportunity to set the record straight with the department’s attempts to fill its empty but funded officer positions.

“We’re actively trying to hire police officers, but there’s not a big pool of applicants, and the applicants we’ve had have not been successful in the testing process. Two who tested well didn’t make it through the training program,” Acuna said. “We have high standards here in Calexico. It’s a fast-paced police department. It’s not for everybody.”

“History has shown that officers hired from the inside always flourish … “

Sgt. Sean Acuna

He added the department has hired eight officers in the last year, but only three of those officers remain with the department.

“It’s a very intense training process,” Acuna said.

Before voting, Mayor Pro Tem David Romero said, “I think it makes logical sense to start in-house first. … Those officers have a knowledge of the community, a knowledge of the streets and trust in the community.” The chief, in his report to the council as part of the agenda for the Nov. 6 meeting, described the requirements to apply for the lieutenant’s position. He reported only sergeants and officers who hold a supervisory California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training certificate, or an officer with a bachelor’s degree or higher and an Advanced POST certificate, would be eligible to apply. Gerardo noted he does have several staff members with these qualifications.

This story is featured in the Nov 14, 2019 e-Edition.

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