CALEXICO — The Calexico police union has issued a vote of no confidence against its police chief, alleging he has shown inefficiency to lead, and requests new leadership.
A letter detailing the reasoning behind the vote by the Calexico Police Officers’ Association against Police Chief Jim Neujahr is dated Jan. 2 and was distributed to City Manager Oscar Rodriquez as well as the City Council earlier this month.
“Chief Neujahr’s lack of leadership and poor decision-making skills has created a Police Department where morale is low and there is a perception of never-ending favoritism and no future even though there is unyielding work and dedication,” the letter writes.
“The issues that they bring up are factual, but obviously the interpretation behind it is two different sides of the street, and so I think that’s where a lot of this lies right now,” Neujahr said.
“My job as the chief of police is to protect the citizens of my community, and how I use that authority comes back to serving my community. It’s important to me and it’s important to the position as chief of police to have as safe a community as possible,” he said. “That means marshalling the resources into the area that you think is necessary in order to be able to make that happen. Along the way, we forget that those resources are sometimes human capital. So I’m not going to say that I’m perfect, but I think that we’ve done a great job with the great many men and women that work for our department in order to make our city safe.”
The letter, from CPOA President Rudy Alarcon, addresses numerous issues, and specifically cites that the chief “seemingly has no control over both of his lieutenants,” and allows them to “impose their own set of ideas amongst the troops,” creating “chaos.”
The letter pointedly references issues with Lt. Jesus Serrano, which the police union also issued a vote of no confidence against in May 2011. The letter alleges that Serrano has “repeatedly and blatantly violated the rights of several of our police officers,” and in one incident, a citizen, resulting in costly litigation and settlements.
“Yet Chief Neujahr has failed to do anything to fix the problem, keeping Lt. Serrano in a position where he can still retaliate against those who have pointed out his deficiencies and poor leadership skills,” the letter says.
This city paid $35,800 as part of a lawsuit settlement in May that alleged a Calexico police officer improperly arrested a man and seized his firearm more than two years ago. The CPOA maintains that Serrano demanded the officer arrest that citizen despite the violation of constitutional rights.
Neujahr said he’s only aware of that one lawsuit and said he couldn’t specify if there was any resulting punishment from that incident due to personnel privacy.
“If there was a concern that required action, I would take that action,” he said.
He added that, “the Police Department, like any other law enforcement agency, we endure a number of lawsuits … the fact that a person can bring a suit does not mean it’s legitimate or not. Unfortunately we live in a very litigious time and there again, the law enforcement duty of the department must go on.”
The letter goes on to detail that Calexico Police Lt. Gonzalo Gerardo “does nothing proactive” and has a “lack of commitment to anything other than his special interests.”
It also alleges that Neujahr has chosen to “disregard any past practice or MOU agreements regarding the hiring of new personnel in contradiction to his philosophy about giving patrol top priority.”
The letter says that a new hire has been placed in a position to work outside of the city in order to obtain asset forfeiture moneys while the rest of the officers work “on a skeleton crew” while three officers are already assigned to positions that garner asset forfeiture moneys.
The chief said he is simply using the “best people in the best jobs.”
The letter also writes that the chief hasn’t followed protocol or MOU agreement in regard to special assignments and alleges that the chief is responsible for the “wrongful terminations of Officers Juan Garcia and Sean Sundahl and mishandling of their post-termination matters which has cost the city of Calexico several hundred thousands of dollars unnecessarily.”
In response, Neujahr said, “There’s a number of MOUs that we have to follow in order to be able to serve the public, and to the best of my knowledge, we’re always in compliance with the MOU.”
The letter ends on the note that, “We feel that Chief Neujahr is not salvageable and request new leadership to redefine the Calexico Police Department’s ethical and professional standard.”
“The union obviously has a different perception of the direction of the department than I do, but I don’t see anything that I can do to change that,” Neujahr said. “Our No. 1 goal is to protect the citizens and we’re going to do that.”
The hiring and firing of the police chief is at the discretion of the city manager who receives input from City Council.
View a copy of the letter online at www.ivpressonline.com.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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