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    New Santa Ana POA president wants to ‘rebrand’ organization
    • May 2, 2024

    The Santa Ana Police Officers Association’s new president, John Kachirisky, said he wants to “rebrand” the organization and get the community to see the union in a more “positive light.”

    Following the exit of former union leader Gerry Serrano in late July, Kachirisky, who was previously vice president, is filling in to finish the president’s two-year term, which ends in December when elections will be held again.

    Under Serrano’s leadership, the POA filed several lawsuits against city administration alleging retaliation, spying and labor code violations, among other complaints. Prior to his departure, Serrano was also in conflict with city leaders over the amount of his pension.

    City Hall officials have said the lawsuits, on top of pricey recall elections against city leaders, strained relations and created severe mistrust with the Santa Ana community. Kachirisky says he wants to fix that.

    Kachirisky has worked for the Santa Ana Police Department since 2008; he previously spent three years with the California Highway Patrol. He said he’s always been supportive of unions, but got his start in organizing with the Santa Ana POA.

    The new union leader said he wants to build a stronger line of communication and trust with the Police Department’s administration and city leaders, adding, “We’re moving forward, turning a page. We’re not looking back to what has happened.”

    When he took the position, Kachirisky said former union president Mark Nichols advised him to keep his focus on the members.

    “I believe the role that I’m in is to look out for the members, putting the members No. 1. That’s been my focus,” Kachirisky said.

    The POA has about 500 members, including unsworn staff. Some members, however, have shared concerns that Kachirisky is a weak replacement for Serrano or shared doubt in his leadership. Others also worry that Kachirisky’s efforts to get along with everyone will be detrimental to the membership.

    To that, Kachirisky said his priority is his members.

    “Maybe my members think that I’m trying to make everybody happy. It’s not making everybody happy, but it’s bringing everybody to the table to find a solution of where we’re going, what direction we’re going to go,” Kachirisky said.

    The POA is in negotiations with the city for a contract – the last one expired in January. But Kachirisky also said a priority is filling the nearly 40 Police Department vacancies that are leading to overworked officers and staff.

    “I’m more worried about the health of my members because right now our dispatchers can’t take days off. They get forced overtime to stay here,” Kachirisky said. “We have officers that have to stay after hours because there’s not enough personnel. I’m more concerned about getting the support that my members need to be able to provide a service for the community.”

    The City Council last summer directed the department to put more focus on arresting publicly intoxicated people. More than 950 hours of overtime were racked up between September and December carrying out that directive, Police Department officials recently reported.

    Some city leaders said they would be open to remedying the working relationship between City Hall and the POA, but want to see Kachirisky’s promises in action.

    “I think that if the new POA president and the POA as a whole want to truly start new, they should start by dropping the lawsuits that they filed against the city,” Councilmember Jessie Lopez said. “If they really want to start new, they should not resort to the manipulative and coercive tactics that they have in the past and take responsibility for the havoc that they’ve caused in the city.”

    Lopez, along with Councilmember Thai Viet Phan, was the focus of a POA-funded recall campaign last year. While the effort targeting Phan failed to garner enough signatures to force a public vote, the effort against Lopez did. She survived the recall vote in November – with 56% of voters supporting her.

    Lopez said “abuse of power” and “greed” on the part of the POA have strained the working relationship between the union and city officials.

    “For years, they’ve relentlessly pursued massive pay increases, even as the city has struggled to provide essential services for our constituents,” Lopez said. “The city has already been embroiled in numerous lawsuits showcasing a blatant disregard for the financial position that the city is in.”

    Lopez described the union’s rebranding as a “PR project” by leaders who are “now trying to salvage their image.”

    Councilmember Johnathan Hernandez had similar concerns, saying “the POA has a lot of work to do when it comes to repairing the harm that they’ve done to the community in the process of them trying to obtain political power.”

    Kachirisky declined to comment on the POA’s previous actions, but said the union is “moving in a different direction.”

    City spokesperson Paul Eakins said five “SAPOA-related cases” have been filed since Serrano’s departure, however the POA is not a plaintiff in those cases. Claudio Gallegos, political director at the Santa Ana POA, said the union is not paying for legal defense in officer-involved cases. It is unclear what city officials meant by “SAPOA-related.”

    One lawsuit was filed in September by Kachirisky, who is alleging the Police Department administration denied him a promotion in 2020 and again in 2022 in retaliation because of his “association with the POA/Serrano and the POA’s/Serrano’s ongoing attempts to hold (former Police Chief David) Valentin and his supporters accountable,” according to court documents.

    Kachirisky declined to comment on the lawsuit.

    The union is in the midst of a lawsuit with a former public relations consultant Ernesto Conde, who was hired by Serrano in 2020. In the suit, the POA alleges that Conde is posting content to the union’s pages without permission and refusing to give up control of the social media channels. In his response to the suit, Conde accused the union of walking back on promises to pay canvassers for their work.

    Kachirisky declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the payment was the responsibility of the Residents for Responsible Leadership, an organization that received funds from the POA for recall efforts.

    “As a laborer, I believe everybody should be paid,” Kachirisky said. “This has nothing to do with the Santa Ana Police Officers Association or any entity with Santa Ana.”

    But both Lopez and Hernandez said the allegations make them dubious of the POA’s new direction.

    Councilmember Benjamin Vazquez also said the allegations are troublesome and he will be keeping an eye on the situation, but is optimistic of brighter days.

    “I appreciate him saying that he wasn’t trying to bring the heat to his office like the previous president of the POA,” Vazquez said. “I think that the last president was detrimental to the whole Police Department, and that really brought morale down. Hopefully we can even things out together and make sure that everybody in the city feels respected.”

    Mayor Valerie Amezcua, who was endorsed by the POA in 2022 along with Councilmembers Phil Bacerra and David Penaloza, said seeing Kachirisky meet with councilmembers, police leaders and the acting city manager has shown her that he is serious about rebranding the union.

    “What I just ask is that they maintain good, positive relationships, as much as possible with the city, the police chief and the police leadership so that the community can benefit, the officers can benefit, and the city as a whole can benefit,” Amezcua said. “When people see that people are working together, attempting to get along, have the same goals, then our community benefits from it.”

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    ​ Orange County Register