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Calexico Police Chief Overcomes Adversity
Calexico Police Department | File photo

Calexico Police Chief Overcame Adversity on Way to Popularity

Second of 2 parts

CALEXICO — Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo’s strength in leadership might just come from his strength in mentorship, something he has shown a dedication to long before he became chief.

Emma Silva, a longtime resident of the William Moreno apartments, a Calexico Housing Authority complex on the west side of the city, recalled his impact. She said she has witnessed Gerardo’s commitment to providing words of encouragement and guidance to youths since he was a Housing Authority police officer and she was a “tenant patrol” leader in the early 2000s.

“I became a widow and he was a good mentor for my sons … giving them advice, talking to them, and anything a good cop would do for a community, especially teenagers at the time. I hope he’s still doing this,” said Silva, whose three sons include two teachers and one firefighter/emergency medical technician.

She added he was important to so many teenage boys in the area at the time, not just her sons.

“He’s a good man in the community,” Silva said.

Police Sgt. Victor Legaspi said mentoring young officers has been a key component of how Gerardo leads the department. He said several weeks ago Gerardo cleared his schedule to ride along with newer officers, both individuals and as teams, to find out what they needed to better do their jobs.

Gerardo said that was Thanksgiving week, and he wanted to get to know some of the newer officers under him and give them the chance to know him better.

“I asked them about their personal lives, their kids, their wives and their needs, told them about myself,” Gerardo said recently.

It’s the human touch that seems to endear Gerardo to his officers and people in the community, interviews reveal. The chief also believes it’s his honesty, integrity and willingness to recognize his own shortcomings that makes him an effective leader as well.

“People know I’m not going to sugar coat stuff when it comes to (city) council, department heads, officers, etc.,” Gerardo said. “If you ask me for my feedback, I’m really going to give it.”

But he also listens. He said he’s got an open-door policy; he hears out his police officers’ union and others. He has his opinions on how things should be done, but he doesn’t make decisions in a vacuum.

“There’s no stupid question, no stupid idea. … I’m receptive to change,” Gerardo said.

“I also apologize to people when I’m wrong,” he said. “I’m the first one to say I’m sorry.”

“I became a widow and he was a good mentor for my sons … giving them advice, talking to them, and anything a good cop would do for a community,”

Emma Silva

Gerardo said much of what he’s learned in developing his leadership style has been to take bits and pieces from all of the chiefs he’s worked under, learning from and incorporating the good traits and being mindful not to repeat the mistakes of those who have had their problems.

“I am not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes … but I want to be able to sleep comfortably at night,” he said.

What it comes down to, Gerardo stressed, is his officers are the ones who make him look good. Even as the city struggles to fill vacant officer positions and issues of manpower keep him up at night, he said he has a hard-working, dedicated team on the streets.

The officers “get along and work really well together,” he added. “They give me 100 percent every day.”

Things haven’t always gone this smoothly for Gerardo. He’s known dark times at the department and in his career, and it’s come in waves. In fact, he was placed on administrative leave for 408 days in 2015-16 but ended up being brought back with no disciplinary action against him.

While he doesn’t like to talk about it, Gerardo was part of a federal lawsuit filed against the city for wrongful termination/wrongfully being placed on leave.

In that matter he and fired former chief Michael Bostic, former Public Works director Nick Servin and former police administrative secretary Martha Gomez all accused members of the council and city staff of retaliation. The group claimed it was for exposing criminal activity in the Police Department and Public Works Department. They ultimately won their case against the city.

In 2014, Gerardo witnessed the firing of former chief  Pompeyo Tabarez Sr. by the council and the hiring of Bostic, who was brought into clean house. Bostic was in place when the FBI raided the department, seizing computers and files. Soon after, Bostic would suspend seven police officers he would publicly accuse of being part of a culture in the department that operated like “an extortion racket.” Those officers would all eventually be fired.

No criminal charges were ever filed against the seven officers, and most of them are in the midst of a federal lawsuit over wrongful termination by the city. One officer, Luis Casillas, successfully sued to get his job back and has been on the payroll for the last two months but has yet to be cleared to return to work.

Former city council member and mayor Martiza Hurtado knows all too well what Gerardo went through. She was on the council from 2010-18 and operated among the majority and the minority at different times. As part of the majority, she fired Tabarez and brought in Bostic. As part of the minority, she watched Bostic get fired and saw Gerardo placed on leave.

Hurtado said she is so happy to see where Gerardo has landed, saying those were “some scary times for the city. … But Chalo (Gerardo’s nickname) never gave up. We’re in a different time now. … May God bless our chief.”

Gerardo said he knows he still has detractors but acknowledges he has “more friends than foes.” 

All Gerardo ever wanted was to serve his community, he said, and the best way he could think of doing that was to be chief. When he was interviewed for the job in 1991 by Torvio Flores, who was a commander at the time, Flores asked him what he hoped to accomplish in his career.

Gerardo said he told Flores during that first interview, “Ultimately, I want to be chief of police.”

Here he is, fast-forward nearly 30 years and “I’m living my dream of being chief,” he said.

That’s enough for the 53-year-old Gerardo.

“If I could just retire after my contract ends in December 2021, I’d be happy,” the chief explained.

A man of the people through and through, Gerardo said he’s always known what’s important and in what order.

“Being born and raised in Calexico, I put the citizens of Calexico first, I put the city of Calexico second, my department third, and me last,” he explained.

This story is featured in the Dec 26, 2019 e-Edition.

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