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The Leadership Beat: ‘Members of my team need to understand how important their role is to the agency and me personally’

Chief Paco Balderrama discusses how the role of chief is not to micromanage but to inspire

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Chief Paco Balderrama was sworn in as chief of police of the Fresno (California) Police Department on January 11, 2021.

Fresno Police Department

The following content is part of a new Police1 initiative – the Police Leader Playbook – aimed at helping new law enforcement leaders move beyond basic management and supervision skills and become inspirational leaders with integrity and passion. Through a handful of questions presented by Police1, veteran leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email editor@police1.com to offer your insights for the Police Leader Playbook.

Chief Paco Balderrama was sworn in as chief of police of the Fresno (California) Police Department on January 11, 2021, after a 22-year career with the Oklahoma City Police Department, where he retired as a deputy chief. The Fresno Police Department serves the fifth largest city in California and the 33rd largest in the United States. It is made up of 1,300 employees with 925 sworn officers and 375 professional staff.

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Chief Paco Balderrama

Freno Police Department

What was the incident or person in your career who put you on the path to becoming a chief?

Living in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah federal building bombing took place, had a very strong impact on my desire to serve my community. Almost 170 people lost their lives on that day due to hate and extremism. I felt a deep sense of responsibility to serve and protect my community from violence and evil. I have been fortunate to been surrounded by influential leaders and mentors who have helped me during my career as an 18-year-old detention officer working for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, then through a 22-year career with the Oklahoma City Police Department, and now as Chief of Police in Fresno, California.

What do you (or did you) want to accomplish, improve, or make better in your first 30 days as chief, 6 months as chief and year as chief?

Although I had a plan for my first 90 days as police chief, most of that plan went out the window as we experienced a 25-year high in homicides, a record number of shootings and severe staffing shortages. I am proud to say that after three years on the job, the men and women of the Fresno Police Department have completely turned things around. Now we are one of the safest cities of our size nationally, and we are nearing a fully staffed department with 925 police officers and 400 professional staff. Regardless of recent milestones, we strive to continue making improvements department-wide with the goal of becoming one of the very best law enforcement agencies in the country.

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“When a team is on the “same sheet of music” working together toward a common goal, we become an unstoppable force for good.”

Fresno Police Department

How are you creating an organizational culture people want to be a part of?

Valuing your people is the first step. Everyone in the organization has an important job to do. From the janitorial staff to the chief, we all play a part in achieving our department goals, and members of my team need to understand how important their role is to the agency and me personally.

Secondly, identifying talent and passion and placing those individuals in key roles makes my job easier, and the mission attainable. People with passion and a sense of purpose will do amazing things when encouraged and entrusted to do their best.

And lastly, our job as leaders is not to micromanage our people, but to inspire our people to reach their potential. This gives them fuel to work with a purpose and leaders the freedom to trust them to get the job done. I believe all the above is much more rewarding than simply earning a paycheck. Purpose and an environment where you are inspired can create an organization where people want to work and be a part of for a long time.

What’s your process for making major decisions?

Making decisions doesn’t have to be difficult. Is it needed? Can we afford it? Will it make us better? Is it the right thing to do? These are just some of the questions I ask myself before saying yes. When implementing policy, I make sure all those under me understand the reason for the change, and how it will improve who we are as an agency. Once you have buy-in from your teams, making changes, improvements, or instilling change isn’t difficult.

How do you show your personnel you are leading with value-based behaviors?

A clearly defined mission and vision statement helps align an agency with the values needed to truly serve a noble cause. We focused on doing that at the Fresno Police Department. I try my best to practice what I preach from the top and lead by example. When a team is on the “same sheet of music” working together toward a common goal, we become an unstoppable force for good.

Leadership lightning round

What is a leadership book, podcast, or seminar you’ve found invaluable?

The Wisdom of the Bullfrog” by Admiral William H. McRaven simplifies timeless truths to effective leadership, while “Trust and Inspire” by Stephen Covey explains a modern philosophy to helping those under you reach their true potential while feeling valued and effective.

How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?

Prioritize people and important events, and delegate everything else to give people an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?

A new police headquarters to replace ours which is nearing 75 years in age.

What is one way leaders can show they care about their people?

Through your time and attention. Listening and caring are genuine ways of showing how much people matter to you.

At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?

I focus on the good done that day, and on my family.

Access more Leadership Beat interviews here.

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