The Santa Ana police union escalated a battle with its police chief Wednesday, inside a department tasked with addressing the city’s systemic public safety issues and funded by $141 million in taxpayer money.
That conflict took its most recent turn when the police union under president Gerry Serrano announced it had voted to declare “No confidence” in Chief David Valentin, who in turn says he’s been the target of a personal and political attack by the union under Serrano.
The internal clashing, Valentin says in a letter dated Sept. 1 and first reported by the Orange County Register, is “a complete distraction to our organization” serving the city’s 340,000 residents.
Shortly before the vote, Serrano told union members he was placed on administrative leave by Valentin and ordered to participate in a fitness for duty exam.
It all centers on a barrage of accusations and legal claims that the union under Serrano has leveled against Valentin and other top City Hall officials, which those officials say is actually a pressure campaign by Serrano designed to compel City Hall to improperly boost his pension.
The police union, in a Wednesday statement posted on Facebook, said the vote was 54% for “No-confidence” in Valentin.
“An organization that has NO confidence in its leadership is severely limited in carrying out its mission,” the statement reads, later adding “the (union) will formally advise the city manager, the mayor, and City Council of this determination and ask that they collaborate with the (union) to address this leadership crisis. The citizens of Santa Ana deserve nothing less.”
It comes just a day after Valentin told police officers in a city memo that he is currently “the target of an increasingly intense personal and political attack primarily led by one police employee, centered on false, frivolous, harassing and retaliatory actions and claims.”
Valentin in his letter did not directly name Serrano, but directly referred to Serrano’s quest to boost his pension — a request which city officials have said is not possible.
Serrano — a police sergeant — is already one of the city’s highest-compensated employees with total pay and benefits exceeding $500,000 as of 2019, all while doing no work for the city as part of his full-time release provision under the police union’s labor contract.
“This employee operates with impunity, disregard for any regulation or rule of law, and targets anyone that disagrees with their agenda or demands,” Valentin wrote.
City officials in internal memos obtained by Voice of OC last month voiced concern over Serrano’s apparent effort to “burn the city to the ground unless he gets what he wants.”
Valentin wrote in his letter:
“The extensive unsubstantiated complaints and factually inaccurate allegations and statements violate a myriad of city policies and are a complete distraction to our organization and other city departments, requiring exhaustive staff hours and financial impact in having to respond; none of which serve or benefit our employees or our 340,000 residents.”
The union, in its own statement on Wednesday, said the department’s rank and file “are highly trained competent professionals laboring under a misguided and ineffective administration.”
“Nevertheless, they continue to provide quality law enforcement services to the citizens, business, and visitors to the city in a work environment that is increasingly hostile,” the statement adds.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.