California Police Chief Who Helps Local Poor Migrants May Lose His Job

Greenfield, Calif. Police Chief Joe Grebmeier

Greenfield, Calif. Police Chief Joe Grebmeier  (

The Mexican migrants have been moving to Greenfield, Calif., holding on tight to their indigenous language and customs while building new lives in the farm community of 16,000 people.

The established residents see the quality of life in their town going downhill, and view the new migrants as the cause.

The twist to this familiar old-vs.-new tension: The established residents are mainly Mexican-American.

The city police chief, Joe Grebmeier, has been key in efforts to bring the two sides to an understanding. But he may lose his job.

The Greenfield City Council voted to merge its Police Department with one in a neighboring city, and that means Grebmeier may not stay on as the chief.

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Nearly everyone in Greenfield is Mexican American. Established residents say a massive influx of new migrants from the Mexican state of Oaxaca has devastated their city.

Triquis, Mixtecs and other indigenous people have streamed to the area from small mountain villages to plant and pick crops. They speak their own languages not Spanish and keep their own customs such as arranged marriages while remaining isolated in Greenfield.

For seven years, Grebmeier led monthly meetings to help the new migrants adapt to life in their new home.

His department was recently chosen by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for a civil rights award recognizing its efforts.

However, established residents have accused him of favoritism and sheltering the Oaxacans from the law.

They claim the new migrants ruined the town financially, destroyed its school system, committed violent crimes and were part of gangs.

The City Council cancelled the meetings led by Grebmeier after residents pushed for a police audit and for eliminating the Police Department.

Interim City Manager Brent Slama said severe losses from the collapse of the housing market and construction industry meant the city lacked funds to sustain its Police Department at the current level.

In August, the City Council adopted a resolution of intent to eliminate the department and outsource policing to the Monterey County sheriff. But that proposal proved too costly.

The merger approved Tuesday with neighboring Soledad would help Greenfield save about $150,000. It calls for one police chief. Because the Soledad Police Department proposed the plan, Grebmeier could lose his job.

Grebmeier did not return calls for comment. He previously said he gave no special treatment to the migrants.

He said tough economic times and the increase in violent crime throughout the Salinas Valley led established residents to blame the new migrants and push to eliminate his department.

Last week, he proposed to cut $200,000 from his department's budget by eliminating a vacant sergeant position and gaining concessions on retirement costs for officers.

The city dismissed the chief's proposal, Slama said, because it's subject to labor negotiations.

Grebmeier's supporters are gathering signatures for a referendum to reverse the merger and save the chief's job.

Some residents are also working on the recall of two council members who voted for the merger.

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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