Paco Balderrama is Fresno’s next police chief.
“I’m very, very humbled to be here,” Balderrama said at an introductory news conference.
“My experience is that the higher you go, the smaller you feel; and you feel this small because you feel the pressure of the responsibility and the people’s lives that are affected by your decisions. And that’s something that I take very, very seriously. But I look forward to taking on this new this new challenge and this new responsibility,” Balderrama said.
He added the community trust and community safety are his top priorities.
Balderrama was officially introduced by Mayor Lee Brand and Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer at a virtual news conference. He will be sworn in on Jan. 11.
Media and the public had to watch virtually because of COVID-19 precautions.
First Latino Chief
Balderrama will also be the city’s first Latino police chief. He said he didn’t know that until recently, just assuming that with a large Latino presence in the city, it happened before.
“It is a great honor. It’s a great responsibility. My last name is not my last name. It’s one that I borrowed from my mom. My job is to is to keep that name untarnished and to give it honor so I can pass it on to my children,” Balderrama said.
“I compare that to also being Latino. I am who I am, but I also represent not just my family. I represent the Hispanic community. That’s something that I take very, very seriously. And it’s and it’s humbling to me. I just got to do the best job that I can every day and to do the right thing.”
He was also a trailblazer in Oklahoma City, becoming that department’s first Latino deputy chief.
“I try to be the best person I can, the best professional that I can. And and if I happen to be a Latino, well, that’s good for the Latino community,” Balderrama said.
Balderrama is fluent in Spanish, and answered questions in both languages.
Supports Many Reform Commission Recommendations
Balderrama said he followed along with the Commission on Police Reform meetings and supports several of its recommendations.
“Many of those recommendations are common sense recommendations and national standards. And I think we should implement some of those,” Balderrama said.
Balderrama is open to having social services handling mental health and homeless calls.
“By doing that, we can lessen the load on the police department, but yet we can do accomplish a lot of good for the people that that call 911 and still need services,” he said.
He recognized 2020 has drastically changed policing.
“I don’t think police work as far as we have known it will ever be exactly the same as it used to be,” Balderrama said.
Dyer, Hall Lavishes Praise
Balderrama’s two predecessors, Dyer and current Chief Andrew Hall praised the new hire.
“I have gotten to see first hand what great police chiefs look like. And I’ve gotten to see first hand what it takes to lead a police department in today’s environment,” Dyer said. Paco Balderrama has what it takes to be a great police chief, and he also has what it takes to lead in these turbulent times.”
“You get what you see, and you see what you get. I think Paco will fit in great with the police department,” Hall said.
Hall’s last day will be Jan. 15, allowing for one week of transition.
20-Plus Years Experience
Juan Francisco Balderrama, 44 — Paco is his nickname — comes from Oklahoma City with more than 20 years of law enforcement experience.
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Balderrama moved to Oklahoma City while still in school. After graduation, he and his twin brother Beto worked for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department for four years as detention officers. Paco achieved the rank of sergeant.
In 1999, the Balderrama brothers joined the Oklahoma City Police Department. Paco served as a captain and spokesperson for the department. He was promoted to major in 2017 and deputy chief in 2019.
His duties as deputy chief include the Special Operations Bureau, overseeing criminal intelligence and violent crimes.
Balderrama has held many roles with the OCPD. According to his bio, he has served as “patrol officer, field training officer (FTO), IMPACT officer, D.A.R.E. Instructor, and Public Information Officer.”
He has served on a number of civic boards including the Latino Community Development Agency and the Police Athletic League.
WATCH: Chief Paco Balderrama: “Every police department should mirror its community.’
Balderrama graduated from Oklahoma State in 1998, with additional degrees from the FBI Academy, Mid-America Christian University and Central Oklahoma.
He has been married to his wife Kyla for 11 years with three children — daughter Hayden and sons Jude and Jenson.
Praise from OKC
Balderrama is leaving Oklahoma City with high praise.
John George, president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police — the police union — said they will miss Balderrama.
“He’s a very good communicator. He seems to care about the troops a lot. He’s great in the community, very community oriented,” George said.
George says it will be a “big loss” for Oklahoma City’s Hispanic community.
“He handles the public extremely well. Even though being the FOP and being him being a chief, obviously we don’t always agree eye to eye. What I can tell you about Chief Balderrama is he’s always willing to sit down. He always wants to listen to your concerns and he wants to try to work,” George said. “He’s always willing to sit down to see if there’s a good solution to the problem.
George could not recall even a controversy regarding Balderrama.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with him over the last few years,” George said.
WATCH: Incoming Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama Discusses Growing Up Poor in El Paso and Police Interactions with Disadvantaged Communities
Incoming Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama’s 2017 presentation to University of Oklahoma’s Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing. (He shares his personal experience growing up in El Paso, Texas starting at 6:11 in the video.)
This Year’s Chief Search
The new chief will succeed Hall, who is scheduled to retire next April.
Hall was the surprise selection as chief last year to replace the retiring Jerry Dyer. Despite a nationwide search, Mayor Lee Brand chose Hall even though he did not apply for the job. At the time, Hall was deputy chief, nearing the end of his 40-year career with Fresno police.
Brand vowed to select another new chief. Dyer, who won a March 2020 election for mayor — he takes office in January — was also involved in picking the new chief.
When Brand selected Hall last year, it was understood it would be a short-time selection. Like his predecessor Dyer, Hall faced a mandatory retirement by April.
Hall has said he will stay if requested, to help with the transition.
7 Candidates Interviewed
While the city engaged with the public in several meetings in 2019 in what qualities they sought in a chief, the 2020 selection was not public.
According to GV Wire℠ sources who could not speak publicly because of personnel policies, the city interviewed seven semifinalists.
Other candidates included:
— Mark Salazar, Fresno Police Department deputy chief
— Larry Esquivel, former police chief of San Jose and Tracy.
— Larry Satterwhite, Houston Police Department assistant chief.
— Chris Davis, Portland Police Bureau deputy chief.
— Malik Aziz, Dallas Police Department major.
— Jason Lando, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police commander.
An eighth candidate was scheduled for an interview but withdrew from the process.