The Salinas Police Officers Association, the union that represents the Salinas Police Department's rank-and-file officers, has taken a vote of "no confidence" in Chief Adele Fresé, a mostly symbolic gesture that nonetheless exemplifies the growing fracture between the three-year chief and some of her officers.
The vote of 47-9—with one abstention and one vote that was illegible—did not include a majority of the SPOA's membership—and at least some of those who didn't vote were on leave or vacation or off-shift.
Fresé didn’t immediately return a call requesting comment Monday morning. Union president Jim Knowlton confirmed the vote took place, and issued the following statement:
”For some time, there has been an overwhelming concern with the chief’s inability to address the critical issues faced by the department, including recruiting and retaining officers, police staffing levels, advocating for department resources and improving departmental morale. The SPOA has worked over the last several years to address the issues with the chief without success and without being presented with any plan on how the chief would address the department’s challenges in a timely fashion. In fact, in most cases, there is a clear lack of recognition that the chief feels she needs to take any action.
“The challenges the Salinas Police Department faces will not be solved with a combination of kicking the can down the road and thumb twiddling. Our challenges need decisive action and collaborative leadership. We need this now.”
The vote comes less than a month after the Salinas City Council voted 6-1, with the lone opposing vote from Councilmember Steve McShane (who is also currently running for a county supervisor's seat), to impose a contract on the SPOA after months of negotiation failed.
The SPOA maintained the contract that was imposed amounted to a pay cut, because it included the removal of pay for things like exemplary physical fitness, a floating holiday and no raise. The parties had been in mandatory but unbinding arbitration, with a three-member arbitration panel recommending the SPOA members receive a 2.5-percent raise and compromising on other issues, including membership contributing to their health care costs.
Fresé remained noticeably quiet during the negotiations, but given her position as a department head who reports directly to the city manager, that’s not unexpected. Recruitment also has been a major issue, with veteran officers leaving for departments that offer more pay or are closer to their homes. In the past 39 months, the department hired 74 people and of those, 54 have already left.
Salinas Police Officer Gabe Carvey, the past president of the SPOA, says he didn’t agree with the vote, which he said carries no weight yet creates a sense of dissension among the ranks. He says Fresé has enacted positive changes to the department.
”There’s a lot of things that bother police officers when you don’t fit a traditional mode. She came in from the outside and she has a creative flair,” Carvey says.
Among the positive changes, he says: Fresé has cut (but not eliminated) Internal Affairs investigations in some cases in favor of having supervisors work directly with officers on issues and to offer more training.
”You bring a female Latina from out of state with new ideas and it’s hard for people to stomach it,” Carvey says. “She’s trying to develop leaders and move the department forward in a calculated, codified new leadership model. It’s interesting we reject it because it’s different and she doesn’t fit the mode.”
Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter, a former SPD homicide detective, says he was "shocked" by the union's vote of no confidence.
"I don't know what they're thinking. Is this because she didn't beat the council up over their pay raise?" he says. "I think myself and the council support the chief of police. She's done a good job with community-oriented policing and she's leading the department in the right direction."
And, Gunter says, Fresé really only has one boss: City Manager Ray Corpuz, who decides to hire or fire the police chief.
"I'm a little sad they had less than 75 percent of the membership participating and they took the vote anyway," Gunter says. "I can't imagine the motivation here. It shocks me."