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.”
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
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
“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
“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.