Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama offers a different perspective on race and policing


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Feb. 23. I’m Justin Ray.

Today I bring you the final installment of my series of discussions with police chiefs of color in California. After talking to Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong and former Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, I now present my talk with Chief Paco Balderrama in Fresno.

My interview with him was actually the second time we had spoken. I previously wrote a newsletter about Fresno Unified’s decision to keep law enforcement on campuses. I was excited to include his voice in this series because he offers a different take that I think is provocative.

Previous chiefs said that their race plays a substantial role in their work. Balderrama has another opinion.

“I think your culture and your upbringing have a lot more to do with how you lead than being Hispanic or African-American or white. It’s really about your upbringing more than it is about what your race is,” Balderrama says. “Leadership is leadership, and I can tell you that to be a good leader, you just have to be very focused on the mission.”

When asked what the biggest misconception is about policing, Balderrama discussed George Floyd’s murder, a case of policing that has severely damaged the reputations of police nationwide. The police chief specifically brought up the video of Floyd’s murder.

“It’s played over and over and over and is viewed literally millions of times,” Balderrama said. “So it gives people the impression that that type of behavior occurs a hundred times a day, every day. And in reality, those things don’t happen every day. You know, those things are actually pretty rare, especially in 2021, when there’s so much more and better accountability in law enforcement.”

He also said of the Floyd case: “I haven’t met a single police chief around this country that has justified those actions. They were criminal and evil in nature, and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

He began his tenure as the top cop in California’s fifth-largest city in January 2021. While serving in that position, his most controversial moment might have been taking a soft approach to an anti-masking protester. We discussed that moment, as well as such other topics as how police cameras protect the police, and how a tragedy in Oklahoma City led him to become an officer.

You can read the full interview here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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So how much longer will the pandemic last? No one is sure. Coronavirus cases are falling, but it would be a mistake to think that the pandemic is over, experts say. Times reporters explain what you should and shouldn’t expect in the coming weeks. Fontana News Room

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S.

(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

L.A. STORIES

Why Gascón reversed himself on sentencing of a woman who assaulted a 10-year-old. As he’s faced increased criticism from law enforcement, elected officials and his own staff, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón has staunchly defended his handling of a politically fraught case: the prosecution of a transgender woman charged with sexually assaulting a child in a Denny’s restroom. On Sunday evening, the reform-minded prosecutor made a dramatic shift. Fontana News Room

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon speaks on Friday, June 18, 2021.

Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascon speaks in June 2021.

(Irfan Khan/Fontana News Room)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

A California lawmaker wants to increase the allowance that people released from prison receive to cover basic needs. Sydney Kamlager, a state senator representing Los Angeles, introduced legislation to increase “gate money,” which are funds that people released from state prisons are given — from $200 to nearly $2,600. “This is really about making sure that when people get out, we are not perpetuating a cycle of economic violence,” Kamlager said. The Guardian

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

The city of Stockton has recently seen a high number of homicides. Six men were fatally shot in eight days, police said. “For our community, it is important to share that our detectives have been working tirelessly on these cases and believe that none of the homicides are related to each other,” the Stockton police department said. In 2021, the total number of homicides in Stockton was 39, according to police department data. KRON 4

A physically disabled Palm Springs man was killed earlier this month when his wife stabbed him more than 140 times. Joan Burke, 61, was charged with first-degree murder and held without bail Sunday morning in the Palm Beach County Jail. The body of Melvin Weller, 62, was found by his stepson on Feb. 11, lying on a kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Weller had filed to divorce Burke in December, according to court records. Palm Beach Post

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

South Lake Tahoe grapples with 500-pound problem: A bear that breaks into homes for food. He has many names: Yogi, Chunky, Hank the Tank, Jake. Some people simply call him the Big Guy. What everyone can agree on is that the black bear roaming around South Lake Tahoe has become a problem. Because the bear has become accustomed to humans and would appear to consider them a source of easily accessible food, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has labeled it a “severely food-habituated” conflict bear. Fontana News Room

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Affluent Californians flock to Tahoe. The region’s average home price has jumped a whopping 35% since 2020, to $875,000. Cities like South Lake Tahoe, which is nestled in the Sierra Nevada, reflect what Zillow calls a nationwide trend: affluent folks able to work remotely during the pandemic moving to areas where they could enjoy “year-round outdoor living.” Housing has never been cheap in Tahoe, but the pandemic has dramatically increased the price of property listings, partially thanks to Bay Area tech employees seeking to escape the confines of COVID. Capital and Main

California Highway Patrol speaks out amid road rage incidents. Lufino Reyes Mejorado, 60, was killed Dec. 6 in a road rage shooting along Interstate 5 in Sacramento after an encounter with another driver that started several miles away on another freeway. Mejorado retired in 2018 as a correctional officer at California State Prison, Solano. He was one of five shooting victims in eight violent incidents from Nov. 2 through Dec. 6 on highways in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. “Don’t make eye contact. If they’re trying to pass you, let them pass. Let them be on their way and you maintain a safe distance from them,” CHP Valley Division spokesman Officer Eulogio Ceja said. Sacramento Bee

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Overcast, 58 San Diego: Rainy 56 San Francisco: Sunny 54 San Jose: Fresno: Sunny 57 Sacramento: Sunny 57. I can’t stop saying uncujams.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Paul Jacobs:

I grew up in Chicago and had never been west of the Rockies until December 1966 when I came to San Jose to spend the holidays at the invitation of a college friend. I fell in love with the Bay Area and after returning home, I felt wistful when I heard the Mamas and the Papas singing “California Dreamin’” on the radio. In mid-January, Chicago was buried by the great snowstorm of 1967. The city shut down for three days, and my car was buried for a month, before our street was plowed. Never a fan of Chicago weather, that was the last straw for me. After graduating in 1968, I moved to the Bay Area to attend law school and have been here ever since. And “California Dreamin’” is still a favorite song of mine.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.



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