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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Learn all you can about Islamic terrorist tactics and how to combat them. Given our politicians reluctance to defeat this enemy and our porous borders, it’s only a matter of time before the jihad comes here.


Not according to our President, CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, etc. Our borders are very secure…


That’s right. If they say so, it must be true!


I forgot that Barack Hussein Obama (mmm,mmm, mmm) already declared the United States safe from ebola as well.


And if you like your doctor and health care plan you can keep that too.


Much ado about nothing. We should be thankful to the Israelis for providing this training. As for the bayonets they can be very useful in crowd control when police are in a tight formation moving forward slowly in unison. I can attest to this based on personal experienceduring desegregation.


Irony, Antelope?


Unfortunately, once local police or sheriff’s equipment and sworn personnel have been heavily militarized, and no foreign threat emerges for the outfitted cops to fight, they ultimately have to try the gear against their local populace. It’s happening all over the country and the only way it will stop is if citizens stop bitching about it, and start doing something about it. Gesell and Parkinson have shown they don’t have enough common judgement between them to do it on their own.


This Chief Gesell is a scoundrel !!! He changed his story of not paying a dime of public money only after he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Then to top it off he runs to the apron of the Fibune management and the city manager to try and spin the story so that it is more palatable to John and Jane Q. Taxpayer.

And of course the the Fibune would try to cover his butt as they are too busy supporting every tax increase and bond measure facing the public as well as supporting their crooked cronies in political office (think Caryn Ray and Tony Ferrara as examples)

Think about this gas bubble when you are voting for SLO’s sales tax Measure G.


Did he use his personal time to take this week’s vacation or did he use the taxpayer’s paycheck (with paid benefits and retirement tacked on). If he used City time, this trip was partially paid by the taxpayers. Maybe before Police Chief Steve Gesell he should take a fundamental accounting class101 – all expenses is ALL expenses:

1) travel, hotel, meals, time, tipping, taxis, etc. nothing paid or charged to my employer everything paid by the Anti-Defamation League, or

2) travel, hotel, meals, was paid by Anti-Defamation League and I paid for all other incidentals, or

3) while partial was paid by Anti-Defamation League (travel, hotel and meals), my employer (taxpayers) paid for my time, benefits, pension and incidentals expenses including partial travel.

We won’t even discuss the bogus training relating to you taking the lead at Diablo Canyon and I pray you never use this static terror training on our Cal Poly students or local citizens even during protests.


We certainly can lean a lot from a country who’s very survival and existence has been challenged for almost 7 decades. They have thrived in a land surrounded by neighboring countries that have called for Israel’s extinction over and over again.

I hope this training never has to be utilized in our country, but it’s good to have.

JB Bronson

Without discrediting the merit of the prior two comments, I don’t have a problem with staying ahead on the learning curve in today’s violent world. But the Sheriff’s Dept. with an ocean going boat to fight terrrorism?

That’s silly, and will be expensive.


It’s probably one of those blow up boats — you know, the kind filled with hot air. And when it encounters a terrorist, it blows up — the other kind of blow up. Nothing very high tech, for sure.


so the same old B.S. the chief takes a vacation , and LIES about the funding , and what do you need BAYONETS for ?

I think you need to stay here and police your dept like you were hired to, or maybe you need to join the armed forces and you can practice what you learned on your VACATION, but I doubt weather you could QUALIFY .


Good article, topical and good depth. However, as usual, the chief flies around the world on items he’s interested in, while ignoring daily actions of noise terror, sudden sharp baby-jarring noises, disruptions, cortisol-releasing impacts created by at-will thugs.

Unpoliced, wide-open, no police interest thug noise and impacts to our health and peace may not seem big deals next to ebola or risk of weapons terrorism, but brazen intentional modified or removed muffler violation of law and the peace should NOT be part of the things the police do NOTHING about.

Chief, I may never see an armed terrorist, however our local homes, parks and cafes are shaken daily. Get with it, Chief. Start with just a few tickets, just for the worst of the loudest. DO SOMETHING. We (and our grandbabies) will all thank you.

Rich in MB

We really want our local police trained by foreign governments that don’t respect the US Constitution and our rights?

Scarry thing folks….time to wake up to what is going on.


Yes. Because foreign terrorists who are entering this country don’t respect the US Constitution or our rights either. I don’t want our local police being caught blindsided. Adapt or die.

Rich in MB

Ya….get rid of that pesky 4th Amendment.

Which founding father warned about trading freedom for security?

Its a fools trade.


Please explain how Israel doesn’t respect our constitution and our rights.

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