Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2015
Sitting hard up against a towering rusted fence that separates the United States from Mexico, this city is for most a dreary gantlet of fast-food restaurants and gas stations on the way to one of Calexico’s two official border crossings.
Calexico wasn’t a place that Mike Bostic had ever visited. In fact, the former high-ranking Los Angeles police official thought it was in Mexico until he got a call from its new city manager in September.
The call led to a secret meeting in a San Diego hotel room. There, the city manager, Richard Warne, told Bostic that a group of veteran cops was running the department like a fiefdom, taking home big overtime checks while very little police work was getting done.
Calexico needed a new police chief, Warne said. And he wanted Bostic for the job.
But putting a police uniform back on had stopped being part of his plan long ago–never mind for a hard-on-its-luck border town of 40,000 where residents and elected officials say years of political infighting has created a revolving door for public servants, and where faith in the Police Department has dwindled.
One afternoon in October, while Bostic waited in his car outside, Warne summoned the city’s chief into his office and promptly fired him. He then fetched Bostic, walked him into the town’s one police station and introduced him to a stunned group of officers.
That first day, Bostic asked a sergeant for a rundown of all the criminal and internal investigations the department had open. It was a short conversation. The sergeant told him there were no investigations, he said.
It was, Bostic said, a department that essentially had ceased to function. Dispatch records showed each of the about two dozen officers on the force had responded, on average, to only five radio calls for help in a month. Many officers, Bostic said, were months behind on writing crime reports.
Even the fact that Calexico’s crime rate appeared to be half that of a nearby city was not cause for encouragement. To Bostic, it was proof many residents had simply given up looking to the police for help and reporting crimes–a sentiment he said he heard repeatedly at town hall-style meetings.
“The community has been afraid even to call for too long,” said Eddie Guzman, 61, a mortgage broker who has lived in Calexico for more than 50 years. “I’m hoping that things will change under him. We need someone from the outside to come in and clean this place up.”
Guzman, like several other residents and city officials, chalked up the trouble in the Police Department–as well as the city government–to “the compadre system,” a set of unwritten but deeply ingrained rules that they say form the underpinnings for civic life in Calexico. Under the compadre system, they say, favors are traded like currency and personal relationships often trump the rule of law.
“The city has a long history of favoritism, cronyism and corruption among city officials,” Warne charged, noting he is the 26th city manager to be hired in the last 35 years. “The hiring of friends, relatives and mistresses has been a common practice–people who were clearly unqualified for their jobs. Goods and services are purchased based on personal connections without any consideration of quality.”
Soon after he took over in Calexico, Bostic said he contacted the FBI, relaying concerns he had about some of his officers. Then, on a morning in late October, dozens of agents descended on the police station, seizing computer hard drives and documents.
FBI officials acknowledged the ongoing investigation but declined to comment on its scope or focus. Bostic, for his part, has refused to elaborate on the probe. But it seems to have struck a sensitive chord with him. Twice after the raid, Bostic choked back tears when answering reporters’ questions about the investigation.
“There could be nothing more embarrassing than to have your department under that kind of scrutiny . . . . It was literally the most disappointing day in all my years of policing,” he said at one news conference after composing himself.
The problems, Bostic said, stemmed from half a dozen or so officers, who also held sway in the police officers union. Bostic said they effectively ran the department, threatening other officers with misconduct investigations if they got out of line and running the department’s $450,000 annual budget for overtime to nearly $1.5 million.