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Santa Ana’s top cop could be falling out of favor with the ranks of his own department.
That’s what the labor group representing the city’s police officers claims, as the union’s boss says the Santa Ana Police Officers Association is moving forward with a vote of no confidence in Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin, though the date of the vote hasn’t been made clear.
The union’s board, in a July 16 written statement through president Gerry Serrano, said it has determined “that a vote of no confidence in Chief Valentin is warranted and should be pursued although there are many areas of concern and some that only the city may comment on.”
It adds: “The reoccurring theme amongst all is based on the fair and equitable treatment of all employees without retribution or retaliation.”
Serrano didn’t respond to questions Monday asking when or over what time frame this vote will take place, or what the union seeks through a vote undermining department leadership.
Such votes generally arise out of employee and communication grievances, but can also serve as a tool for police unions — which have come to realize their political power in local government over the last several decades — to apply political pressure, according to some policing institutes.
The union has flirted with this course of action before with previous chief Carlos Rojas, who resigned in 2017, and police unions in Anaheim and Huntington Beach over the last decade have held no confidence votes in chiefs that have since departed the city.
Santa Ana Police Dept. spokesperson Anthony Bertagna said he was unavailable to comment Monday when reached by Voice of OC.
City spokesperson Paul Eakins, in a written statement, said “City Manager (Kristine) Ridge stands behind Police Chief Valentin’s leadership and his ability to ensure our community’s public safety.”
A phone message request for comment to Valentin, sent to his assistant, went unreturned Monday.
It comes as the union, under Serrano, has taken issue with Valentin and his department’s administration over a number of issues, laid out in two recent legal claims — and a complaint against the chief — which the union says it has filed with the city.
In the claims, the union lambasts the department for its response to public records requests by Voice of OC; details an alleged pattern of misogyny and discrimination inside the department toward unnamed women employees; and alleges Valentin and his administration were untruthful in recent lawsuit depositions around the investigation and employment case of an officer.
The potential no confidence vote also comes as Serrano himself has been the subject of scrutiny over his leadership of the union.
Earlier this year, Voice of OC reported that a union vice president under Serrano, Jim Armstrong, resigned from his post — but not without this to say to Serrano in his resignation letter:
“You have turned our union into a subtle dictatorship,” wrote Armstrong, a property crimes detective at the police department. He then forwarded his resignation message to top police officials.
The union has been viewed as one of the most powerful political forces in Santa Ana, with their campaign support considered in some cases to be a big factor of a candidate’s success.
One example came last year, when the union funded a successful recall of their most vocal City Council critic, Ceci Iglesias, who had voted against a $25 million police officers raise the Council approved without funding.
Federal authorities have also been looking into the police union, issuing subpoenas related to Serrano.
The nature of the investigation and the subpoenas’ roles in them have not been disclosed, though Serrano has dismissed them as baseless probes brought on by his enemies.
Earlier this year, Voice of OC reported that Valentin had raised questions about whether Serrano took excessive cash-outs for unused time off from City Hall.
In an internal memo from 2018, Valentin says Serrano took an “anomaly” payment worth more than 300 hours of time off in 2017, allegedly exceeding what was allowed under the labor contract that year between the city and police union.
That memo was responding to another one of Serrano’s cash-out requests that year, which Valentin said again sought an excessive cash-out for unused time off.
Serrano became the union’s president in 2016.
Since then, the interest group has emerged as a powerful and aggressive player in citywide elections — spending heavily on the 2018 citywide elections on select council candidates who supported police salary raises and, in 2019, the recall of Iglesias who opposed them.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.