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Mindy Casto Now Heads Fresno PD. She Wants to Focus on 'Wild Drivers,' Lower Traffic Deaths
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 4 days ago on
July 8, 2024
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Mindy Casto is now in charge of the Fresno Police Department as interim chief. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

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Interim Chief Mindy Casto is looking to move on from the recent black eye on the Fresno Police Department.

Casto, a 27-year department veteran, was named to the department’s top job after Paco Balderrama resigned as chief on June 25. An investigation revealed Balderrama had an affair with the wife of another Fresno police officer. That created distrust with the police union and was a sign of “poor discretion,” Mayor Jerry Dyer said.

Balderrama will remain on the payroll and will serve as a consultant until July 25.

Casto, 48, wants to maintain the department’s work of reducing homicides and violent crime. She also wants to sharpen the department’s focus on auto traffic accidents and fatalities.

City Manager Georgeanne White and Dyer will be formulating the process on selecting the next chief. Dyer said it will be a national search, using a consulting firm. It could take up to five months, he said.

Casto sat down with GV Wire last week for a one-on-one interview about her goals, her background, and her future.

“This was obviously thrust upon all of us in this department and in such a short time. I’ve kind of joked that I feel like I’m in a blender, so that’s not really something I can spend a lot of time thinking about right now, because there’s much work to be done, and I’m really trying to focus on that.”Interim Chief Mindy Casto

Even though she has the chief’s full rights and responsibilities, Casto chooses to wear only two stars on her collar. Typically, the chief wears four stars.

“That’s just what we’re going to do. I mean, this is a temporary role, and obviously all the responsibility comes with it as a full time. But it is an interim role, so I think it’s just most appropriate,” Casto said.

She does not know yet if she wants the job full time.

“It’s truly a family decision,” said Casto, whose husband and son also serve on the force. “It could be a financial decision. I just don’t know. This was obviously thrust upon all of us in this department and in such a short time. I’ve kind of joked that I feel like I’m in a blender, so that’s not really something I can spend a lot of time thinking about right now, because there’s much work to be done, and I’m really trying to focus on that.”

A Call from the City Manager

The city first placed Balderrama on paid leave on June 12. White called Casto asking if she was willing to take over, first as acting chief.

“Of course, the answer’s yes. I mean, I’m pretty dutiful. This department’s pretty much given me everything that I have. It’s been good to me over my entire career since I was, you know, younger than 18. So, the answer was yes. Anything I can do to help,” Casto said.

Casto started as  cadet. She rose through the ranks, to sergeant in 2003, lieutenant in 2015, captain in 2018, deputy chief in 2022, and now interim chief. Rising through the ranks wasn’t her top priority.

“I never really looked for the next promotion. When an opportunity would arise, I’d take it. But that’s one of my beliefs as (a tenet of) leadership is if you’re always looking for the next rank or the next promotion, it’s hard to make good decisions at the rank that you are,” Casto said.

She says she’s enjoyed having a positive influence over the community and those she worked with.

Now interim Police Chief Mindy Casto (right) with husband Sgt. Steve Casto (left) and son Brenden, who was hired last year as an officer. (Fresno PD)

Transition to Chief

Casto said despite her promotion, the leadership team remains intact.

“It’s not just about me,” Casto said. “I may have elevated. Chief Balderrama may be gone, but the same people are making the good decisions. And just ultimately, it’s my responsibility for how things go.”

As deputy chief, Casto handled the support division. She praised her three fellow deputies, Mark Salazar, head of the investigation division, “a brilliant mind when it comes to violent crime”; patrol division leader Michael Landon, “a great decisionmaker and calm in the eye of the storm”; and administrative division leader Burke Farrah, “a great educator, very smart, experienced.”

Casto is ready to move on from the Balderrama controversy.

“This is a distraction. But there’s work to do and this community doesn’t deserve anything less than us focusing on getting the job done,” Casto said.

Her workload has only gotten busier, she said. She already keeps her phone with her 24/7, even bedside when she sleeps.

“God forbid an officer gets hurt or there’s a major crime in the city that you know is very impactful. You need to know about it, and you need to be able to respond. (That has) even just amped up another level … it penetrates every waking moment and every sleeping moment as well,” Casto said.

First Female (and Mother) as Chief

Even if it is just temporary, Casto is the first female — and first mother — to lead the department.

“I’m pretty good at seeing both sides of an issue. And I don’t know if that comes from being a mom or other experience that I have had, but it has been a little bit being like a parent in any leadership role, because the officers need to know that you care about them, but you also have to hold them accountable when things go wrong. Otherwise, we don’t maintain the trust of the community. So that’s a delicate balance,” Casto said.

While she is satisfied with response time to emergency calls, the department can do better for non-emergency calls.

“Officers are busy, and I would love to be able to improve some of our service levels. I have ideas, some of them are technology-based, others are deployment-based, and we’re going to keep working on that,” Casto said.

Improving Traffic Safety

 “The truth is that enforcement does work. It does change driving behavior.”Interim Chief Mindy Casto

Casto is proud of the reductions in violent crime this year. So far, there have been only 14 homicides, on pace to be less than 35 in 2023. She said there has been a 46% reduction in shootings compared to last year as well.

She said making a bunch of arrests isn’t the best practice to reduce violence. Now, officers focus on “intelligence-driven policing,” partnering with other agencies and community groups.

Casto is concerned about the 30 road fatalities so far this year.

“I’m going to admit, one of the things I least liked doing as a police officer was writing citations. But the truth is that enforcement does work. It does change driving behavior,” Casto said. “It’s one of the complaints I get the most when I talk to the public is about the wild drivers out there.”

The department has a unit of 36 officers working traffic each week. Others can be pulled in to help. She said citations are up, and injury collisions are down 7% compared to this time last year.

The worst intersections according to Fresno police data are Blackstone and Shaw avenues, Fresno and Shaw avenues, and Olive and Fresno avenues. More traffic officers will be deployed at those locations, she said.

An $850,000 grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety helps with 58 DUI and traffic safety operations a year. Last month, the department arrested 12 in a saturation patrol.

Casto said the department is sending traffic officers to community events to help educate on safety.

“We know enforcement does work, but we definitely want to be on the community engagement side and offer education about what are the impacts of DUI driving, for instance, or … the rules of the road. Some people just aren’t that familiar with them,” Casto said.

A Kid from Caruthers

“It’s a good feeling to be able to make an impact in people’s lives.”Interim Chief Mindy Casto

Casto grew up in Caruthers. “Caruthers High School, just like Margaret Mims,” she said, referring to the longtime Fresno County sheriff.

Her family farmed, and her mom owned a beauty shop.

“I grew up out on the country. FFA president, thought that’s the direction I was going in high school until I went on a ride along with Mayor Dyer’s sister (Officer Diane Dyer), who my mom happened to know. And, that was all she wrote. That was my decision-making factor, was that first ride along,” Casto said.

What motivated her into law enforcement?

“It is just the opportunity to make such a difference in other people’s lives, to be the one that comes when someone needs help and they’re calling 911. Obviously, you can’t change the world. You’re one person. But that little saying you can change the world for one person? It’s true,” Casto said.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to make an impact in people’s lives,” she said.

She joined Fresno police as a 16-year-old explorer — it allowed her to go on more ride alongs — and later as a 19-year-old cadet. In 1997, she joined the department full time as an officer.

She earned her degree online from California Coast University.

“I started when there were a lot of police officers who were first hired in the 1970s, but I’ve never been anything but mentored by a fantastic group of men and women,” Casto said.

Mindy Casto as a cadet. (Fresno PD)

Three Castos in the Department

Not only does Casto’s husband work in the department — Sgt. Steve Casto — but so does her son, Brenden, who joined the force last year.

She was surprised about her son’s choice.

“I imagine he probably wouldn’t prefer to have our last name sometimes, you know? He’s his own independent person, and he gets the job done. He’s been raised to have a really strong work ethic, and I think it’s going to serve him well. He doesn’t need our name or me or anybody else to help pave the way for him. He’s going to do it on his own,” Casto said.

Casto said there is a department policy and city code that prevents her from directly commanding her relatives.

She met her husband when both were working for the department. They’ve been married since 2008.

“We met as field training officers, and we knew each other for a couple of years, and we didn’t start dating until we were both sergeants, maybe two years later,” Casto said.

She doesn’t mind if people call her by a different last name, like “Castro.”

“It’s OK. I’m called Mandy, too. It doesn’t bother me,” she said.

Watch: Exclusive Full Interview with Interim Chief Mindy Casto

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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