FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama believes police departments should reflect their communities, as the first Latino chief in the city, “I really represent everyone who lives here,” he says.
“It’s important that a lot of our young people growing up can see leaders in their community who are Latino, who are like them, who come from the same places and have the same struggles that they do,” Balderrama says.
When he applied for the job last year, the 44-year-old had no idea he’d make history.
“I kind of assumed there’d been previous chiefs who were Hispanic.”
He was wrong. In January 2021, Balderrama became the 23rd Fresno Police Department Chief and the department’s first Latino top cop after serving as deputy chief in Oklahoma City.
It’s not the first time his ethnicity sets him apart in a roster.
“I do remember going to high school and being one of about 15 Hispanics in the entire school.”
That was back in Oklahoma City, where he spent more than 20 years in law enforcement before moving to the Central Valley.
But the chief definitely embraces his roots.
“Mexico, that’s where my heart is.”
Balderrama was born in El Paso, Texas, but he was raised in Chihuahua, Mexico.
“We had chickens, we had ducks and I still remember the sounds and the smells of what is Chihuahua, Mexico. And all those things are very happy memories for me.”
He lived with his grandma, aunt and twin brother while his mom worked in Los Angeles for a few years.
“That’s a very difficult thing she did, leave her newborn babies in another country to come to the United States to try to make a living, to try to make a little bit of money. And that’s something I think that this community can relate to quite a bit.”
He says it’s this relatability that has made it easy for Fresnans to welcome him from day one.
“I do feel very supported here,” he says.
The new chief made a positive impact on the Latino community just a couple of months into the job. When Lorenzo Perez, an immigrant street vendor was brutally murdered in late March, Balderrama personally gave the victim’s 15-year-old son his condolences.
“Just talking to him and having him break down on the phone, it’s a difficult thing to do. It’s not something you go to the police academy and receive training on how to deal with victims.”
What he did have training on was tracking suspects.
“And four days later to be able to deliver [and arrest the suspect], I can tell you without a doubt, it was one of the highlights of my career.”
The veteran cop says he’s all about making good on his promises.
“Coming to work and knowing that I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders, and it’s something that I have to live up to.”
Living up to this calling is how he shows gratitude for the opportunities he’s had in the U.S., he says. But as a Mexican-American, he’s also cherishing his background this Hispanic Heritage Month.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate who we are as people, it’s an opportunity to share the rich culture that Mexican-Americans bring to this country. The food, the colors, the dancing, the music.”