Fresno police chief under investigation for alleged inappropriate relationship, city says

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Chief Paco Balderrama has been under investigation since February for an alleged inappropriate relationship with someone who is not a city employee, according to a news release on Thursday.

Balderrama, who has been chief for more than three years, was not placed on administrative leave but remains under investigation by an independent investigator retained by the City Attorney’s Office, according to the release.

“Until the investigation is finalized and thoroughly reviewed, we ask that you reserve judgment in this confidential personnel matter,” the statement released at 3:55 p.m. Thursday said.

The investigation was in the review process, the release said, and would determine if Balderrama violated department policy.

The release said Balderrama made Mayor Jerry Dyer and City Manager Georgeanne White aware of the potential for the allegation in February.

A call to Balderrama’s cellphone on Thursday went unanswered.

The Fresno City Council met Wednesday as part of budget hearings typical for June, and Balderrama made a presentation. He wrapped up his time with some comments before any news of the investigation became public.

“Serving as chief has been a struggle at times. I’ve had a few nights where I’m like, ‘What the heck did I get myself into?’“ he said at the hearing. “But I can tell you it’s very rewarding to see the success of this police department. And I can’t forget our mayor as well. He told me a while back, ‘I can’t give you a contract, but I give you my word that as long as I’m mayor, you’re my guy.’ ”

Balderrama became the 22nd chief in the city’s history, and the first of Hispanic descent, when he came to Fresno from Oklahoma City at the start of 2021.

He replaced Andy Hall, who served as chief for a short yearlong stint following Jerry Dyer’s retirement as chief after 18 years. Both Hall and Dyer left after union policy required them to retire.

Dyer had followed Ed Winchester, who retired in 2001 following a scandal in December 1999 in which several young men broke into a Fresno police bunker near Auberry and stole 200 pounds of explosives.

Police hadn’t checked on the bunker’s contents for more than a year. Winchester told a Fresno County grand jury in 2000 he didn’t know of the bunker’s existence until after the theft.

Balderrama’s arrival drew praise from city leaders, with at least one calling it a “historic day.”

The department reached its all-time highest number of officers in 2023 when it tallied 848, Balderrama said during a ceremony for new cops. The total has continued to push toward 900 sworn officers.

The number of intentional homicides were high before creeping down during Balderrama’s tenure after beginning at a grim high not seen in Fresno in nearly 25 years at 74 homicides in 2020. The city saw another 74 in 2021, his first year as chief.

The number of intentional homicides in Fresno fell to 35 in 2023, which was down 43.3% from the previous year. That crime was trending down nationally at the same time.

He has not been without criticism. The department has not adopted all of the 73 recommendations set out by the Commission on Police Reform, whose report was finalized a couple of months before Balderrama was announced as the next chief.

Critics, including at least one member of the commission, said the department was too slow to adopt the policies. Balderrama himself said some of the policies were off the table.

Balderrama is married and a father of three.