City Officials Discuss DOJ Findings on Calexico Police Department

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CALEXICO – Nine days after an independent assessment of Calexico’s police department was issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Calexico council members held a special meeting May 31 to discuss possible solutions to the DOJ findings and recommendations.

The Community Oriented Policing Services, better known as COPS, released a 133-page report where key observations were supported in detail by 94 findings and 169 recommendations that show significant deficiencies in every core major operational system of the police department. Deficiencies listed range from training, internal affairs, criminal investigations, the ability to staff patrol, crime analysis, internal accountabilities, ability to investigate complaints and basic managerial functions, such as tracking overtime and being responsible to the community.

The report was initiated over a year ago, after former Chief of Police Michael Bostic and former City Manager Richard Warne contacted the Department of Justice (DOJ) and expressed concerns about the dysfunctional and substandard operations of the Calexico Police Department.

The main concern about addressing the DOJ findings and recommendations is the lack of funding in city coffers.

“With a limited budget, I think there is a question of how we are going to do it,” said Mayor Joong S. Kim.

In light of the financial issue, Calexico resident Maribel Padilla suggested the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department patrol the city for some time.

“The Calexico Police Department has a lot of issues,” said Padilla. “I suggest you shut it down for a few years until you can get this situation under control and have the Sheriff’s take over in the meantime.”

But Calexico resident Bill Hodge disagreed with Padilla, and suggested the police department bring back three officers who were frozen out of the budget.

“We need to bring back the three officers that were frozen out of the budget,” said Hodge. “Right now the citizens of Calexico are not safe. They are not being adequately protected. The police department is seriously understaffed.”

“Citizens of Calexico contribute and pay city taxes and deserve to be protected,” added Hodge. “Right now, there is a three to one ratio of officer and staff sergeant per shif,t and sometimes two to one, mainly on Sundays. This situation has caused long delays in service. A citizen can be hurt or burglarized will have to wait and wait for the service until they finally arrive or not arrive at all. Adequate police and fire services are essential for any city.”

Hodge also said that in his opinion, due to city council’s policy decisions based on spite or revenge, the council is not focusing on what is important for the greater good of the community.

Calexico Police Officers Association President Sean Acuña said the department has already implemented several reforms of its practices and policies, and also pointed out the need for additional officers.

“We need resources, and resources in form of personnel,” said Acuña. “We cannot make any changes right now without bodies.”

Councilmember Maritza Hurtado agreed with Acuña, and asked the council provide the police department with an annual budget.

“How can we expect the police department to make changes if they don’t even know what their budget is, or how much money they have to work with?” asked Hurtado.

Councilmember Armando Real questioned interim City Manager Nick Fenley on whether the city was in a strong enough financial position to hire three officers.

“Not with our current revenues, no,” replied Fenley. “We first need to find out how we are going to cut $3 million from the budget.”

Calexico’s 2015-2016 financial budget currently has a $3 million shortfall.

Councilmember John Moreno asked Chief of Police Reggie Gomez  if there were any DOJ items that the council could address at this time.

Gomez replied saying many of the problems could be resolved utilizing a simple laptop, and he reiterated the major concern were the staffing levels.