Home News Fresno police chief under investigation for inappropriate “off-duty” relationship

Fresno police chief under investigation for inappropriate “off-duty” relationship

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Thaddeus Miller, Tim Sheehan
The Fresno Bee

A hush fell over Fresno this week as an announcement with few details arrived that its police chief was under investigation — but city leaders have remained mum on exactly why.

Fresno Chief Paco Balderrama has been under investigation by an outside analyst since February for a potentially inappropriate relationship with someone who is not a city employee while off-duty, according to a city spokesperson.

The confirmation came in a news release late Thursday afternoon with no details on why an investigation was necessary for a relationship that was ostensibly to have happened during Balderrama’s free time and did not involve an employee.

The nature of the relationship in question has also not been made clear by city leaders.

Questions also lingered over why the city made a public declaration about an investigation over a personnel matter that was not complete. City leaders routinely decline to talk about employees while citing a “personnel matter.”

The chief has remained on the job and was not placed on leave as the investigation continued, the city said in its news release. That investigation into whether he did anything that violated policy was in its review process.

City leaders were wary late Thursday and into Friday about addressing the investigation.

The ongoing nature of the case made it too early to address for Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Luis Chavez, Mike Karbassi and Annalisa Perea, who cited the ongoing personnel investigation.

Other councilmembers, Garry Bredefeld, Nelson Esparza and Tyler Maxwell, did not respond to requests for comment from The Bee.

Balderrama tweeted on X, formerly Twitter, about four hours after the investigation became public knowledge. The post included an image with words from the Bible verse Hebrews 13:5 as well as his own words.

“We will be okay…,” he wrote in the same tweet.

Fresno police chiefs

Fresno Police Officers Association President Brandon Wiemiller also said he would not comment on a personnel investigation. The union represents the rank-and-file officers but not Fresno’s police chief.

As Balderrama took the top cop job in 2021, he also made history as the first chief of Hispanic decent in the 150-year-old city.

He was named the city’s 22nd police chief, and he followed a roughly yearlong stint by Andy Hall and 18 years by Jerry Dyer, who is now mayor in Fresno.

The importance of having a chief who looks like more than half of the population in Fresno was not lost on Jose Gutierrez, the president of the Fresno County Chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association.

Balderrama also speaks Spanish, an apparent first for a chief in Fresno.

The retired California Highway Patrol officer said it was too early to comment on the situation because so little information was public, but he offered some comments on Balderrama in general.

“With Fresno being a very diverse community, it’s great to see a leader that represents the demographics of our community,” Gutierrez said. “It’s great to see a Latino at the forefront. He was hired based on his merits and qualifications and he is an outstanding leader.”

“It was way overdue to have a leader like him. It was way overdue to see the culture change within the police department,” he added.

Balderrama has received praise during his time in Fresno, including the California Association of Tactical Officers award for Executive of the Year at the end of 2023.

Oklahoma city background

Balderrama, 47, was announced by then-Mayor Lee Brand as the next Fresno chief of police in December 2020 during a news conference primarily viewed remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He had spent more than 20 years in the Oklahoma City Police Department and was the first Hispanic deputy chief there before moving west to Fresno, a slightly smaller city than its Oklahoma counterpart though with a greater diversity.

Before Balderrama, Fresno had not hired a police chief from outside the city since 1991, when Joseph Samuels got the job. He left after two years.

Balderrama earned his master’s degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Central Oklahoma and graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2017, according to his bio when he was hired.

He held a number of different roles in OKC before landing the deputy chief job there.

During the news conference that introduced him as the next hire in Fresno, Brand expressed confidence in Balderrama.

“It’s been clear from the start that Fresno wants a chief who can make changes, build trust and increase safety for all of out residents,” Brand said in 2020. “As I said many times, the selection of our next police chief will be the single most important decision that we make.”

Fresno Bee reporters Erik Galicia and Melissa Montalvo contributed to this report.

©2024 The Fresno Bee. Visit fresnobee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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