Fresno police chief should take a leave during inquiry of off-duty relationship | Opinion

After apologizing Monday to officers under his command while being investigated for an off-duty relationship, there is one more step that Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama must take: Take a leave of absence.

At least until an internal investigation has been completed and his bosses, Mayor Jerry Dyer and City Manager Georgeanne White, decide his fate.

“I owe my mistakes,” the chief said in his apology, a copy of which was obtained by The Fresno Bee.

“It is so very true that there are two sides to every story, but I do not intend to justify or defend myself regardless of any unknown circumstances,” said Balderrama. “My actions did not meet the standards of who I am as a man of faith, husband, or father.”

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That apology, however, isn’t enough. He must take administrative leave until the matter is resolved. Balderrama owes that to the half-million residents of the city who depend on his force for safety. He also owes that to a sworn police force of 900 who look to him as their leader.

Balderrama also owes it to his wife and three children. “My family has been deeply affected by this …” he wrote in his apology.

The chief has already violated a trust he cites often to his officers.

In his welcome to new officers on the city website, Balderrama explains the dedication of each officer to serving “our community with honesty, compassion, and respect as we keep our citizens safe.”

“Above all else, we must maintain the trust of our community,” he writes. “This five-letter word is the foundation of every law enforcement agency. Trust is what gives our officers the authority to do their job and the legitimacy to police neighborhoods.

“This trust must be continually earned and should never be taken for granted.”

That trust has come under question by the Fresno Police Officers Association, which has scheduled a meeting on Wednesday to address the investigation.

“The FPOA executive board has received countless communications from members at all ranks and throughout all areas of the department that they feel betrayed, and trust has been lost,” the union said in an email sent to its members last Friday.

There is no question that Balderrama, who arrived in 2021 as the city’s first Latino police chief, has been effective in lowering crime and diversifying the force. He’s becoming the face of Fresno police.

Last week, it became known that an internal investigation was launched in February after the police chief informed the mayor and city manager that allegations about his conduct could become public. The city, last Thursday, announced that the police chief was being investigated for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a non-city employee.

The city has not answered legitimate questions about Balderrama’s inappropriate relationship and how it came to light.

Any investigation into the city’s top law enforcement officer must be taken seriously by all sides and the city must demonstrate that no city employee, including the police chief, is immune from scrutiny and punishment if warranted.

Investigating a police chief, who leads a public safety agency, is difficult enough. It’s good that Balderrama has apologized but, for the good of the city, he should also step aside so that his situation does not distract his department any further from protecting the citizens of Fresno.