CALEXICO — The U.S. Department of Justice held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, where they issued a scathing independent assessment of Calexico’s Police Department, finding nine key observations that include the critical need for reform in addressing community-oriented policing, stronger leadership, and accountability to the importance of strategic planning and organizational alignment across the departments operations.
The Community Oriented Policing Services better known as COPS, released a 133-page report where the key observations were supported in detail by 94 findings and 169 recommendations that highlight the most important opportunities for Calexico and its police department to address in order to guide the department up the path toward true community-oriented policing.
The assessment was administered as part of the COPS Office’s Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance, designed to provide technical assistance to agencies facing significant law enforcement-related issues. Using subject matter experts, interviews and direct observations, as well as conducting extensive research and analysis, the COPS Offices assists law enforcement agencies with enhancing and improving their policies and procedures, their operating systems and their professional culture. The COPS can issue a series of recommendations and be instructed in assisting agencies with the implementation of those recommendations.
“The investigation was initiated by (former) Calexico Chief of Police Michael Bostic and (former) Calexico City Manager Richard Warne in April 2015,” said U.S. Attorney of Southern California Laura Duffy. “At the time, Chief Bostic had expressed concerns about the dysfunctional and substandard operations of the Calexico Police Department.”
Bostic’s concerns included allegations of a young man allegedly kidnapped and beaten by members of the Calexico Police Department that is currently being prosecuted in the Imperial County court in addition to identified issues related to the lack of ongoing criminal investigations, internal investigations and general police operations including Bostic’s belief that city council members and members of the Calexico Police Officer’s Association were interfering with ongoing investigations. Among other actions, the chief terminated the employment of several Calexico police officers based on their alleged use of seized assets to buy surveillance equipment to extort the city council.
According to Duffy, the year-long assessment resulted in numerous findings and recommendations making it the most critical independent assessment the Department of Justice COPS has ever issued.
“These recommendations are based not only on an analysis of the Calexico Police Department’s policies and procedures, and national best practices, but also on interviews and meetings that took place with PD officials, community members and other individuals in the community who have stakes in the Calexico Police Department’s operating procedures as well as their standard processes,” said Duffy.
According to COPS Director Ronald Davis, the 94 findings show significant deficiencies in every core major operational system of a police department. Those deficiencies 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.
“These findings are not superficial. These findings are very significant and they bring into question the ability for the police department to provide core basic services to the community,” said Davis. “The implementations cannot be completed in the next few months; these findings represent the need to basically rebuild and overhaul the entire Calexico Police Department that will require increased leadership and support at all levels of city government. Failure to make the changes in the report constitutes a great disservice to the community and to the men and women who serve the Calexico Police Department.”
Davis said vacancies in the police department and the city’s financial strains are of great concern and added they are stepping up their resources and want to make sure the city does the same to ensure the department and the city remain committed to implementing reforms.
“We should applaud the former police chief (Bostic) and former city mayor (Warren) for asking for this assessment,” said Davis. “The truth often hurts, but selective ignorance is fatal.”
“Understanding that today there is a hard truth, that the significant deficiencies and operational systems of the police department is a hard truth. Not looking at this and not addressing this, leaving it as it is, is fatal. It will destroy the department, it will destroy the community and quite frankly, it will undermine public safety, not only here but the entire region. This is a period of time needed to build trust in the community,” he added.
According to Davis, the DOJ is committed to assisting Calexico in rebuilding the police department and bring them up-to-date with 21st century policing.
Chief Reggie Gomez, Calexico’s interim police chief, said the city has already taken some measures to rebuild the department and he has faith that city officials will do what’s right for Calexico and its citizens.
City Councilman Luis Castro said it is the responsibility of city officials to safeguard the community, and he is committed to working closely with other council members in implementing the recommendations.
Last week, former Calexico Police Chief Michael Bostic and former Calexico City Manager Richard Warne, along with other former employees, filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Calexico alleging they had been fired or put on administrative leave after exposing alleged criminal misconduct within the police and public works departments.
Subsequent to the press conference, Congressman Juan Vargas issued the following statement: “The citizens of Calexico deserve to be protected by an excellent police department that operates to the best of their ability and adheres to the highest level of community policing practices. I am thankful the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services took the time to conduct a comprehensive review of the Calexico Police Department. I am confident that with this information, the city of Calexico will make the changes needed, while keeping the best interest of the community in mind.”
The following day, Interim Chief of Police Gomez issued a statement related to an alleged error found in the DOJ COPS Collaborative Reform Initiative report: “The issue of concern is located on Page 1 of the Executive Summary, second paragraph. It is regarding a kidnapping in the fall of 2004 where a young man was kidnapped and beaten by members of the Calexico Police Department. A kidnapping did occur, however, it was the members of the Calexico Police Department that investigated the case and made arrests of the kidnapping suspects. The case was reviewed by the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office, and is currently being tried in the Superior Court of the County of Imperial.”
“The entry in the Executive Summary is in error. The community, press and news media have been ‘running away’ with this,” the statement read. “This entry compounded the issues we wish to address and has put the hardworking staff of the Calexico Police Department in an undeserved bad standing. It has caused drop in good morale and has made our job of reform harder to accomplish. I am requesting DOJ COPS assistance, in help or any suggested direction to help correct this very important matter.”
A copy of the Department of Justice COPS report can be viewed at http://ric-zai-inc.com/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-W0804