SLO’s police chief brings back Israeli lessons on suicide bombers, rioters

October 14, 2014
Steve Gesell

Steve Gesell


San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell spent a week in Israel learning how its police agencies deal with suicide bombers and attacks by militants armed with automatic weapons. The program, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, provides American police officials with training in Israeli police tactics that includes having police wear body armor and carry automatic weapons as they patrol the streets.

Multiple law enforcement heads, including Gesell and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson, have traveled to Israel, on excursions sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to learn Israel police techniques for crowd control, combating terrorism and media relations.

But Israel police are often accused of violating the civil rights of minorities through illegal arrests and unequal enforcement of laws that differ depending on race, religion and sex. A number of American law enforcement leaders have been accused of implementing aggressive military tactics against American civilians after attending the ADL-sponsored courses in Israel.

The former police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, who retired before the shooting of Michael Brown, attended the Israeli program. The Ferguson police department used armored vehicles, sniper rifles and automatic weapons in its response to protest overs Brown’s killing. Reporters and commentators noted that the Ferguson police looked more like American military units deployed in Afghanistan than an American police department maintaining law and order.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the Ferguson department’s tactics violated the civil rights of the protestors.

Both Gesell and Parkinson have purchased armored vehicles and assault rifles under a Department of Homeland Security program giving police agencies access to surplus military equipment. Included in the purchases were 50 bayonets for the San Luis Obispo Police Department and 25 bayonets for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.

Earlier this year, Parkinson purchased a 27-foot boat for his department after receiving board approval for a $494,013 budget increase for the cost of the boat, extras and maintenance for the year. Parkinson said it would be used to prevent terrorism and to tow suspected drug smuggling boats abandoned on the Central California Coast. The Coast Guard provides towing services for those boats free of charge.

Gesell said the Israeli training would help him work with other agencies, deal with the possibility of riots in the city and defend against a terrorist attack on Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

But Gesell would not comment about the likelihood of rioting in San Luis Obispo or how the city police department would have authority over Diablo Canyon. Instead, Gesell spoke about “inter-agency interfacing.”

“Any interface with agencies that deal with complex issues involving public safety is valuable to police administrators,” Gesell said in an email. “Lessons learned extend beyond the terrorist attacks the Israelis have learned to mitigate as exemplified by the tragic incidents that continue to occur in the United States in seeming unlikely places.”

Gesell has made multiple claims that no public moneys were used to fund the trip, discounting a request he made in August to have a portion of the travel expenses paid out of the police department’s training budget.

While the trip was to be paid for entirely by the ADL, Gesell had one of his sergeants purchase a plane ticket on Aug. 20 for a flight from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles International Airport, where Gesell was pre-ticketed for the flight to Israel.

The chief then submitted a written request to have the city pay the $379 charge out of the police department’s training account, which Assistant City Manager Michael Codron approved in August, noting it would “help the chief prepare for local incidents.”

While Gesell was still in Israel, CalCoastNews reporters began asking city officials about his journey. Gesell then contacted the Tribune, seeking an interview upon his planned Sept. 21 return. Upon his return, Gessel sent an email to his administrative assistant asking her to remind him to write a check repaying the city for his flight.

On Sept. 24, CalCoastNews made a request under the Public Records Act for all expenditures the chief charged the city of San Luis Obispo for his trip.

Two days later, Gesell informed City Manager Katie Lichtig that the Tribune would be running a story on his “counterterrorism excursion to Israel.”

“Should be a good piece with several very interesting photos,” Gesell said in his Sept. 26 email to Lichtig.slo police swatt

In the same email, Gesell informed Lichtig of the probability that questions would be asked about the trip. He reminded her that the trip was totally sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League with the exception of transportation to Los Angeles, which he said he planned to pay back.

“I am reimbursing the city to do everything I can to assuage any critics that may devalue the experience and knowledge gained in addition to having the rare opportunity to be an international ambassador for the city,” Gissel says in the email.

In the Sept. 26 Tribune story, reporter Matt Fountain describes Gesell’s excursion as a privately funded, all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for seminars on counterterrorism. Fountain said Gesell told him “not a dime of taxpayers’ money went into the trip.”

“While Gesell’s flight, hotel and meals were paid for by the ADL, he said he personally paid the cost of gas to drive from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles International Airport,” Fountain wrote in his article.

Gesell was asked by CalCoastNews to confirm that he drove to Los Angeles and that no public funds were used, as reported by the Tribune. Gesell said the Tribune article included faulty statements.

“The Tribune article contained erroneous info that I paid for fuel to LAX,” Gesell said in an Oct. 3 email to CalCoastNews. “Our agency and the city as a whole prides itself on transparency which is why you are included in our media distribution list despite your repeated propensity to ignore facts in the pursuit of sensationalism.”

When asked about the discrepancy, Fountain said Gesell told him he had paid for his own gas to Los Angeles and that Gesell did not ask for a correction or retraction after the article was posted.

However, after discussing the issue with Tribune editors and Gesell, Fountain said he was unsure if Gesell said he purchased the gas to transport himself to Los Angeles Airport and that the Tribune would be publishing a correction.

A correction was subsequently added to the Tribune’s Sept. 26 online article:

“Correction: An earlier version of this story erred in describing Steve Gesell’s travel from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles. Gesell flew from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles International Airport and initially paid for the flight with a city credit card when staff booked his ticket,” the Tribune wrote over the weekend.  “Gesell said Friday he is reimbursing the city $400.”

Over the past several years, local law enforcement agencies have attended public events in military garb and displaying military equipment.

In September, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department had its annual Family Day at the Ranch, an event where children 12 and under were provided free  hot dogs as they interacted with local law enforcement officers.

At one booth, officers in heavy military attire were standing shoulder to shoulder behind a computer showing a military style police action with the song “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor,” playing loudly. V. Rapone, a local parent who attended the event with a young child, said he complained about the music, and was told by a sheriff department official that the song was not “abhorrent.”

However, Tony Cipolla, the sheriff’s department spokesperson, said the music was turned off after receiving complaints.

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  1. bobfromsanluis says:

    The whole thing that bothers me about this trip, the “training” that was received isn’t that it was by Israeli “police”, or that the ADL paid for the trip; my greatest concern is the record of human rights abuses the police state of Israel has, and the attitude that is instilled in those who receive such “training”.

    Israel is in a precarious situation in the Middle East, and of course, they have every right to defend their nation. That said, the military leaders are very determined to do anything to anyone in their pursuit of protecting their country, with no regard in any meaningful way about anyone’s “rights”. I am concerned when a public safety official in our country, in our county specifically attends such “training” and, IMO, a possibly barely perceptible “attitude adjustment” where it concerns respecting the rights of the citizens that are your employer.

    San Luis Obispo does not have Hamas or al Qaeda trying to slip in with suicide vests; as such, we have no business shifting the mindset or training of our law enforcement professionals towards a police state like what is the “normal” in Israel. There is no need for our city police department to have fifty bayonets, even if they are never ever attached to a rifle. I hope I never see our police department respond to any situation decked out like the quasi-military outfitting that we saw in Ferguson Missouri.

    • st33L says:



      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO LENS,INFRARED RECEIVER 10 Each $215.81 10/4/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO LID 25 Each $45.35 4/12/2013
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO LID 15 Each $45.35 4/12/2013
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO LIGHT SPECIAL PURPO 9 Each $135.24 6/4/2011

      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO LONG RANGE ACOUSTIC DEVICE 1 Each $34,500.00 11/30/2011

      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGAZINE,CARTRIDGE 7 Each $9.31 5/16/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGAZINE,CARTRIDGE 33 Each $9.31 7/23/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGAZINE,CARTRIDGE 100 Each $9.31 1/4/2012
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGAZINE,CARTRIDGE 200 Each $9.31 1/4/2012
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGAZINE,CARTRIDGE 200 Each $9.31 10/24/2012
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGAZINE,RELEASE 30 Each $72.24 11/10/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGNIFIER LENS ASSE 5 Each $331.68 5/7/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MAGNIFIER LENS ASSE 10 Each $331.68 10/4/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MOUNT,RIFLE 1 Each $1,024.72 4/19/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MOUNT,VIEWER 8 Each $157.00 8/10/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MOUNT,VIEWER 20 Each $157.00 8/13/2011
      CA SAN LUIS OBISPO MOUNT,VIEWER 5 Each $157.00 9/27/2011

      • flytrap says:

        How can you criticize this? We NEED more fire power. Let’s get any surplus tanks we can get our hands on from the army, more cold weather gear including more parkas, more lasar range finders and jack up the police salaries and pensions while we are at it-after all, San Luis Obispo is one dangerous place! I just hope we have enough machine guns and grenades to keep the Cal Poly students in control. BTW, for the uninformed, the 5.56 mm ammo referred to below is used in M16 machine guns (they use up a lot of bullets really fast!!). And if you can’t use the bayonets for stabbing people, just use them for cutlery since they are “just knives.” Let’s see how many “dislikes” we get on this comment!

    • toryrand says:

      there is a reason the FBI has arrested officers of SLO PD. More to come, something is in the works.

  2. st33L says:

    State County Item Name Quantity UI Value Ship Date
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO TRUCK,UTILITY 1 Each $55,500.00 6/18/2010
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO TRUCK,UTILITY 1 Each $77,522.00 4/9/2013
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO T-SHIRT,TACTICAL 15 Each $9.56 3/27/2014
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO VIEWER,NIGHT VISION 1 Each $13,571.95 10/29/2011
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO VIEWER,NIGHT VISION 1 Each $18,054.18 11/12/2011
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO VIEWER,NIGHT VISION 15 Each $16,658.81 11/19/2011
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO VIEWER,NIGHT VISION 2 Each $4,616.63 10/15/2011
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO VIEWING SET,NIGHT VISION 5 Each $3,328.62 8/27/2011
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO WINDOW,VEHICULAR 5 Each $968.38 9/17/2011
    CA SAN LUIS OBISPO WINDOW,VEHICULAR 5 Each $790.23 9/17/2011

  3. st33L says:

    Since CCN didn’t include a list of the military equipment SLO BOUGHT, I will. More to come, this is only a fraction…

    51 Night Vision goggles purchased for $3,578 per unit.

    Total = $182,478

    7 Thermal 5.56 Rifle Sights purchased for $15,400 per unit.

    Total. = $107,800

    • SamLouis says:

      I think some of these “free” prices are higher than Internet wholesale surplus prices…

      That figures…

  4. SamLouis says:

    Down deep, do any of you ever feel that at some point CCN is going to be silenced? As CCN continues to shine a light on corrupt governmental agencies and individuals I have to think that the powers that be (and not “the people”) are getting more and more angry — and in some cases desperate. Will they continue to tolerate CCN or will they resort to uber nastiness in order to extinguish the light?

    On the other hand the information flowing from CCN is also helping to drive real reform so maybe in time, local politics/government agencies will be slowly be purged of the ethical cancer that currently afflicts them?

  5. Truth Hurts says:

    This article is misleading in a way. It says purchases when it talks about the equipment that was received. This is not true. In fact the equipment was FREE to the agency. It will be a cold day in hell before you see cops with bayonets on rifles in your town. A bayonet is also just a knife. Now if you were asked if you wanted 25 knifes for free would you say no? I know I wouldn’t especially when these things would be 50-100 each to purchase. People always talk about the armored vehicles cops have but did you know that cop cars offer very little protection. Very few agencies can afford ballistic panels in their car doors and a door will not stop a bullet. They are not patrolling in these armored vehicles. They are called out when there is a possibility that bullets are going to fly. Can you blame them. We are not in Mayberry anymore. We have cartels and bad people operating in this county

    • SamLouis says:

      Nothing is free. It takes time to prepare the material requests, have them approved and then to ship the materials. Once they materials arrive in SLO they need to be stored and maintained. In some cases their use requires additional training (more $)

      You’re simply wrong when you say that bayonets are “simply knives.” Here’s a photo of the current issue M9 Bayonet. Tell us again why SLO City cops need them:

      You’re attempted justification for procuring armored personnel carriers is laughable. I suspect the maintenance alone is more than car door “ballistic panels” cost — not that their purchase is justified either.

      • Truth Hurts says:

        I agree it takes time which is money but my guess is schedules were adjusted and the money was going out any way…a bayonet is a knife. Take it off the rifle and see. Yes it has the ability to attach to a weapon but have you EVER seen one on a police rifle? As far as your comment about the armored vehicles yes a panel on a car can be cheaper than the armored vehicle but to what extent? The sheriff probably has 40 patrol vehicles and the panels for most Kevlar is only good for five years. And you have the cost of install and removal. They only use those vehicles when shit is hitting the fan I can’t blame them. I will pay more taxes so I don’t have dead cops with widows and orphans. Remember cops are also Americans and people. If you don’t like how they do things put your life on the line and go do it. Don’t complain from the cheap seats

        • SamLouis says:

          Paying more taxes isn’t going to equate to fewer cops killed. That’s bull manure.

          When was the last time the crap hit the fan in SLO? Has it ever?

          Oh yeah, again, why do SLOPD cops needs bayonets?

        • toryrand says:

          police arent even in the top ten jobs that put there lives on the line:

          construction workers
          truck drivers
          electrical/power workers
          garbage collectors.

          police are in the top twenty, unless you exclude traffic deaths while on the job. without traffic deaths, police drop out of the top 100. If you factor in morbid obesity or heart attacks on the job, police fall out of the top two hundred.

          emotive bs. a real dangerous job while carrying a gun is an oppressed soldier who has to follow orders blindly under the risk of court martial/treason for failing to do so. yet the soldiers get 25% of the pay of a police officer.

          • SamLouis says:

            Great posting…

            The “safety” excuse to spend unlimited $$$ simply doesn’t cut it. “Oh! but there are lives at risk!”

            That’s true of ANY job…

      • aft50s says:

        I have one very similar to the bayonet shown in the link above that I brought home 40 years ago. It’s sole purpose is to kill and/or gut with. As a general purpose knife, to carry around for utilitarian purposes, it sucks plain and simple.

        There is absolutely no valid reason for any LEO to carry one at any time he/she is on duty.

    • st33L says:

      Shit wasn’t free. See my above posts

  6. SamLouis says:

    “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” — Coach John Wooden

    Do people like Gesell understand this or does he lack the character to even grasp the message?

    He lied about elements of this trip. That’s one thing. Far greater, he tipped his hand that he’s a liar. What concerns me most is what he will lie about next? Will his next lie cost someone their freedom or their life?

    People who lie like Gesell has should not hold the job he does.

    • toryrand says:

      Cory Pierce and five other slo pd were just anomalies….the FBI cleaned out all the liars….there is no way Gessell is a liar. Parkinson was just an innocent bystander in his progression through the ranks and saw nothing, heard nothing, said nothing.

      • toryrand says:

        soon, the ranks of slo pd will be adding one more officer arrested by the FBI…more to come…..

  7. wineguyjc says:

    The only terror threat that SLO Leaders are expecting is when the public wakes up and says enough and storms City hall to regain their town from the crooks!

  8. toryrand says:

    monkey see monkey do

  9. SamLouis says:

    Just who does this Steve Gesell think he is? Tony Ferrara?

Comments are closed.