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

October 14, 2014
Steve Gesell

Steve Gesell

By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN

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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Gordo

First off government officials getting “boodle” and free travel from lobbyists is nothing new, it isa problem that rots the very core of American government. Ask yourself why would a group that’s stated goal is to fight anti-semitism and discrimination act like a lobbyist by treating American police officials to a trip to Israel. I don’t know the answer, but I don’t think it has anything to do with adopting Israeli police tactics. I think it has more to do with the ADL influencing our police and their procedures in how they handle hate crimes and “protected” classes of victims. While I am on the subject I don’t want anyone to think I am bashing Israel, Israelis or Jews in general, because I am not, but I am questioning what the ADL hopes to get for its generosity. Go to the ADL website and read what their position is on illegal immigration and other issues important to the country it might bother you just a little bit.


As to the military equipment in the hands of the police, I think it is foolish to expect police to confront armed barricaded criminals with nothing more than a six shooter and a patrol car door for protection. Failure to provide the proper safety equipment for our police officers is not simply wrong it is criminal.


Government derives it powers from the consent of the people. That means we are the masters and government is the servant, it means that we have a duty to pay attention to what is being done by our government in our names and when we disagree voice that dissent loudly.


I am not troubled by the police being well equipped, but I am troubled by police officials taking free trips from someone who clearly wants something in return..


SamLouis

“…to confront armed barricaded criminals with nothing more than a six shooter and a patrol car door for protection…”


Absolutely no one is suggesting this. That’s a lie.


On the other hand, armored personnel carriers, tanks, grenade launchers and fully machine guns designed for war have no place in policing outside of very specialized SWAT units.


As it is right now, school district security forces, law enforcement agencies in rural towns of less than 500 people and yes, little cities like SLO are absolutely gorging on the “free” military surplus.


Once that surplus is dragged back to SLO it must be stored and maintained. Personnel must be trained (and likely given raises due to their new “skills”) which all costs a great deal.


Gordo

And I ask you Sir, when and where have you seen the weapons of war being used in SLO by anybody other than police/sheriff SWAT teams.

Every officer I see in Paso is wearing a traditional blue uniform and driving a commercially available sedan with police markings. The same is true for the deputies I see patrolling out towards Geneseo. I have not come across an armored personnel carrier yet.


SamLouis

I have seen SLOPD officers jogging across a street armed with M-16’s. It was sickening to watch.


I have seen the loads of equipment they show off on Thursday nights at the Farmer’s Market.


As for those “commercially available sedan(s) with police markings”, more and more they seem to be expensive, gas-thirsty and expensive to maintain 4X4 SUV’s in SLO.


toryrand

the money is nothing, the civil rights are the biggest cost.


pasoparent5

Reading some of this stuff makes me kind of sick….and scared.


For instance, what on earth does the SLO PD need 50 bayonets for?! And the sheriff needs 25 of ’em?! BAYONETS! What the heck…


And the purchases of military surplus stuff–that seems totally unnecessary for cops…unless they’re planning for some police state in the future.


Finally, I still can’t get over Sheriff Ian’s half a million dollar panga boat purchase. Shame on the board of supervisors for approving that!


Gordo

I seem to remember that the boat the sheriff bought was paid for entirely with Federal grant money, not with county tax money. Granted it is all taxpayer money, but if the Federal government was in a boat buying mood I would rather that taxpayers the other 49 states buy us a boat, instead of us buying one for somebody else.


kayaknut

I would rather “grant” money be spent lets say on bridges, roads, and such instead of the pet projects.


Gordo

I don’t disagree with your statement, but the decision on how to use Federal grant money was made by Congress, not Governor Brown, or Bruce Gibson, or Ian Parkinson. The money was available, the sheriff needed a boat and so they bought one using the available grant money. Sounds like the county got an asset at no additional burden to any of its residents.


A friend of mine is a volunteer diver on the sheriff’s dive team and he told me when a plane crashed in San Luis Bay earlier this year it was left for the sheriff’s department to search and recover the wreckage, not the coast guard or the NTSB.


The lack of an adequate ocean going boat, among other things, hampered the effectiveness of the search early on.


Gordo

One other thought: Every sheriff’s department from San Diego County to Santa Barbara has an ocean patrol with boats made for ocean operations, why shouldn’t San Luis Obispo County have one too, especially since we do have the ONLY operational nuclear power plant on the west coast in our backyard.


bobfromsanluis

” … the sheriff needed a boat ….”


Needed? Or wanted? Specifically, Sheriff Parkinson stated that they “needed” the boat for towing, a function, a service that the Coast Guard provides at no charge to the county. Your other arguments notwithstanding, Sheriff Parkinson either spoke without enough thought behind his justification for a new boat, or was able to come up with the other, more compelling reasons later.


Dexter

Very dumbdown logic…do you really think the other 49 states are buying us a boat? Those states have their own boondoggles and I am sure some other chucklehead in those states uses the same logic. This is why we are having the economic troubles in our country. No one thinks of the BIG picture


Gordo

Again, I don’t disagree with your point, but if a boat is needed and grant money is available are you saying we should stand on principal and turn it down? What about grant funds to put Automatic Electronic Defibrilators in every public building, should that grant money have been turned down too?


toryrand

i am sure we bought the other 49 states something as in return.


Truth Hurts

It is a knife with a hole on the handle. These will not go on actual rifles


SamLouis

What are said “knives” for?


MikeB

I would like to add my 2 cents as related to an element no one has yet raised, the acceptance of a gratuity.


Here is an excerpt from the police code of ethics:


I WILL never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.


When I was a San Luis Police Officer, the department always frowned upon the acceptance of gratuities, even a free cup of coffee from a friendly merchant.


Yet what do we have here in this sponsored trip to Israel? The airfare alone had to be close to $1,400.00 and I would conservatively estimate room and meals at $2,000.00.


So how does Chief Gesell and Sheriff Parkinson justify these ADL sponsored expenses as anything less than the acceptance of a generous gratuity?


Are we talking hypocrisy from leaders who are supposed to set the bar of conduct for the rest of the employees? Or is it simply a case of RHIP … Rank Has It’s Priviledges


pasoparent5

Sorry, Mr. Brennler–but I think that so-called “police code of ethics” is rarely used in SLO County & surrounding areas anymore.


Paso Robles’ former top cop Lisa Solomon Chitty violated pretty much every “code” imaginable and she still walked away with a hefty pension AND a half a million $$ payout…


King City police chief, the former chief & several officers were arrested earlier this year for ripping off Spanish-speaking residents in an car impound scheme….


A few years back. Atascadero PD Chief Jim Mulhall “retired” under very suspicious circumstances…He happily walked away w/$126,000 if he promised not to sue the city PLUS another taxpayer-funded comfortable pension.


All these examples make Gesell’s trip to Israel look like small change.


SamLouis

They also don’t make Gesell’s behavior ethical/honorable either…


wineguyjc

Mike B,


Love your post on this one. We all know what the trip was about.


If you have ever been to Israel it is an experience. However, law enforcement is very adept and skilled in violating civilian rights. Based upon all the stories about SLOPD, their “Poundage Program” that Parkinson helped create and implement and the stories about Gesell retaliating against union leaders there is no surprise that these knuckleheads have cloaked this trip as necessary. Parkinson and Gesell get real – terror threats don’t exist in SLO County. Going to another country that is infamous about violating human rights to learn how to be better LEOs is BS. This was simply a trip to take the spouses on at tax payer expense. Lies, deceit and fraud all the way – the facts mean nothing to these jokers.


And no ethics, the rules and laws mean nothing to this jokers.


SamLouis

What ever happened to the public servants that were simply beyond reproach? Those that would simply have said “no” to something like this Israeli “training” junket?


Servants not driven by politics or their own greed, but servants who were actually driven by their desire to help/protect those that pay their bloated compensations?


What exactly happened?


pasoparent5

“I did it…because I could.” –Bill Clinton, June 2004 interview w/Dan Rathers


This attitude pretty much sums it up. There are too many politicians (on the Left and Right) and so-called “public servants” these days that do this kind of stuff…because they can.


SloTownMan

Thank you Chief Gesell & Sheriff Parkinson for the forward thinking & getting the training that we all hope and pray we will never need. I would be happy to help pay your expenses.


Gordo

Are you expecting a Palestinian uprising at Mo Tav?


slosheepdog

Looks fairly straightforward to me, SLO’s top cop went on a partially funded vacation/training trip to Israel. When Calcoast started sniffing around about the trip, he reached out to his buddies at the tribune to write a positive spin piece to get ahead of the story. The tribune spin piece runs on September 26th complete with photos and video of Chief Gesell.


Only problem is the spin piece isn’t true and Calcoast knows it. The “not a dime of taxpayers’ money went into the trip.” statement appears to be completely untrue or intended to mislead the taxpayer readers. The Tribune article remains unchanged until late October 3rd or early October 4th. Are we to believe that Chief Gesell didn’t read the article until October 3rd? The same article he emailed his boss Katie Lichtig about on September 26th “Should be a good piece with several very interesting photos,” Gesell said in his Sept. 26 email to Lichtig. Is there information to show when Chief Gesell contacted the Tribune and requested the correction of this major discrepancy in the article? Did he really wait a whole 7 days to let the Tribune know the story wasn’t correct or did the Tribune sit on the info?


Of equal importance it looks like there was never any intent for Chief Gesell to pay for the flight from SLO to LAX. If that were the case why would he have a sergeant book the flight and follow up with a written request to the assistant city manager to have the city pay for it? It appears the decision to pay the city back was made when Calcoast started asking questions. Assuming that he did intend to repay the ticket cost, is the time of the sergeant booking the ticket and the assistant city manager worth at least one dime? As another post suggested, was it his own personal leave time or was he on the city time clock for the trip?


And finally for the two most important questions of the day;

1. Will Chief Gesell be held to the same standard as the officers of his department and be placed on administrative leave until a complete investigation into the issue of his truthfulness is conducted?

2. Did the SLO City Council and City Manager learn anything from the recent situation and alleged cover-up in Arroyo Grande? Or will they assume as usual the citizens are apathetic and checked out?


SamLouis

Amen. I am getting so darned tired of the lying by public officials. I’m also getting more and more offended by their behavior which suggests the public won’t comprehend the crap they are pulling.


toryrand

if not a dime of taxpayer money wasnt spent, did he use vacation pay for this trip? oh wait, even vacation pay is paid by the taxpayer.


SLOBIRD

In all fairness, vacation accrued belongs to the employee, how he uses it is his business. The question should be asked did he use his own time (vacation) or did the City allocate time off for this trip, which makes the trip partially paid by taxpayers.


toryrand

who takes a “vacation” to better learn how to control and possibly kill people?


cowtipper

Dick Cheney


wineguyjc

Amen SLOSHEEPDOG,


You nailed it. If Gesell had any intent to pay for the flight from SLO To LAX then why didn’t he just have the dipshit sergeant book the flight on Gesell’s personal credit card? Can we say liar, deceitful practices, con-man. Just keep lying Gesell, your credibility on the stand is nothing, however, integrity and credibility mean nothing in SLOTOWN USA. Lie to the public, smile to their faces and screw the public every chance they can. Great post SLOSHEEPDOG!


toryrand

perjury sucks. officer dinsmore perjures himself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perjury


godislanguage

Gee, I wonder if “The Spirit of Laws” by Montesquieu was part of the training. I guess not, since all the philosophy stuff is for academia or is it?


SamLouis

Please take a very close look at this photo:


http://www.whas11.com/news/slideshows/Powerful-scenes-from-Ferguson-Missouri-271266711.html?gallery=y&c=y&img=2&c=y&c=y&c=y&c=y&c=y&c=y&c=y&c=y&c=y


These are city cops, not National Guard troops. I find this sickening, I find it antagonizing and I find it to be very dangerous. Even those with the mentality to procure such garb (camo, desert boots, etc.) need to be reviewed to ascertain if they are truly suitable to be part of any police department in the US.


The last time the SLOPD played army it fueled a riot on California at Foothill. I am very concerned about the next time the SLOPD/SLOSO feels the need to play army…


NorthCountyGuy

SLO PD has yet to explain why it shot a senior citizen 4 times in the back when sleeping in his own bed in his own bedroom in a wrong address drug raid.


When did sleeping in ones own bed in ones own bedroom become a capital crime?????


TacomaRose

when did this happen?