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Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo
Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo | Photo Courtesy of calexico.ca.gov website.

Calexico Police Chief Gerardo Gets Nominal Raise, Considerable Praise

CALEXICO — The Calexico City Council voted 4-0 on Dec. 9 to amend the police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo’s contract and give him about a $6,000 per year raise.

The chief’s base salary will go from $127,395 to $133,765 a year.

Council member Lewis Pacheco was absent.

The amendment also included extending the chief’s severance pay from four months to six months. No other changes were requested by the chief or City Manager David Dale, who negotiated the raise with Gerardo.

“Our police chief is doing, and has done, an excellent job,” Mayor Bill Hodge said.

Quoting from a letter of confidence in the chief issued by the Calexico Police Officers’ Association, the mayor added, “The one sentence that struck me the most, that helps out the community, is not only is the morale in the department a lot higher and the department is a lot more efficient … but it says, ‘Chief Gerardo’s efforts have greatly reduced the overall crime problem in Calexico, thereby enhancing the quality of life for its citizens.’”

The Calexico Police Advisory Commission also issued a letter in support of Gerardo. Both were included in the agenda backup materials.

With some of the smallest police staffing numbers in decades and a city barely on the mend from a $4-million deficit that threatened to bankrupt it, Gerardo’s contract negotiations were clearly tempered by how they would affect the general fund.

The changes to Gerardo’s contract will cost the general fund an additional $5,006 in salaries and benefits through June 30, 2020. For the 2020 calendar year, the increase totals $8,582 through Dec. 31, 2020. Gerardo is on a year-long contract that runs from December to December.

“Of course (I’m happy). I feel the council appreciates what I’m doing,” Gerardo said Dec. 10 of his pay raise, but he didn’t dwell on it. Instead, Gerardo acknowledged that staffing challenges at the department are among his biggest concerns and that he is doing what he can to manage the situation.

‘It’s a National Problem’

It appears Gonzalo’s officers, members of the Advisory Commission and city staff all acknowledge Calexico’s police staffing struggles are common among other departments.

As has become the case over the last several city council meetings and in other conversations, city officials have found themselves repeatedly explaining why Calexico only has 22 patrol officers. The department has five open patrol positions.

Gerardo said it again during an interview with this newspaper Dec. 10, Dale said it on Dec. 9 and even Police Association President Sgt. Sean Acuña said it several weeks ago while addressing the council: “It’s a nationwide problem.”

In fending off public criticism over staffing levels, including from one former police union president in attendance at the Dec. 9 meeting, Dale explained to the council, “We have openings for officers right now. The problem is we can’t fill them because the applicants just aren’t qualified, or don’t pass the site exams, etcetera, etcetera.”

He added, “It’s not just this city. You take El Centro; they’re down 11 officers. We do have openings and we’re trying to fill them, but it’s difficult.”

Added Gerardo in a Dec. 10 interview: “We are hurting in manpower,” and that he  refuses to let the shortage of good candidates force him into bad decisions.

He said he asks the city regularly, “Do you want a warm body or a good officer? Do you want 24 good guys and 10 lazy guys who don’t want to do their work? I’m on patrol myself. … When was the last time you heard of the top brass making arrests? It’s because my guys need help.”

Critics Howl But Steer Clear of Chief  

Perhaps tellingly, even when two members of the public attempted to hijack the Dec. 9 meeting to criticize the council and the Police Association president over their praise of management above front-line staff, those critics were careful not to take due credit from the chief.

“I’m not against the police chief, but how does the city pay attention to the management level only?” asked Joong Kim, a former council member and now a candidate for the Imperial Irrigation District board. “We have lack of the Indians. You are cheering all the chiefs.”

Kim regularly appears at Calexico council meetings to criticize the city.

Former Police Association President Luis Casillas loudly criticized Acuña, who was not in attendance at the Dec. 9 meeting, for his letter of confidence for Gerardo. Casillas, however, was at first attacking Hodge and then Acuña’s role as association president, and not so much attacking Gerardo.

He asked Hodge how he could say things are better at the police department today when there are only 22 patrol officers, including two officers and one supervisor working the overnight shift. He said earlier in the meeting that when he was union president several years ago there were 48 to 50 patrol officers.

“Do you feel proud telling your community that?” Casillas forcefully asked Hodge before targeting Acuña.

“Nothing against the chief, but I’m appalled by Mr. Sean Acuña’s comments. Here he is, they’ve got him by the string; he’s on probation,” Casillas said, motioning as if he had a leash around his neck. “He will lobby for the chief of police, but he will not lobby for his own officers.”

Before making a motion to grant Gerardo his raise, City Council Member Morris Reisen somewhat tried to diffuse the situation with Casillas.

“Casillas, you have a point. You’re pissed off and we can see that. But here’s the deal … I’ve known you for many, many years. You’ve been coming into (my) store and always complaining about the chief … You guys weren’t united,” Reisen said, raising Police Association and Advisory Commission letters that praised Gerardo over his head. “And when you get two letters like this … that’s telling us he’s doing his job.”

This story is featured in the Dec 12, 2019 e-Edition.

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