Juan Gonzalez began his law enforcement career in Pharr in 1988 and retired on Jan. 31, 2009. Two days later, he was hired as the chief of police in San Juan.
He submitted his retirement letter to the city on Aug. 4, and officially began his retirement on Friday, exactly one month after he was placed on paid administrative leave.
Since July 14, the city has continued to remain silent about the circumstances that led to their decision to suspend the long-tenured police chief.
On Thursday, one day before his retirement, Gonzalez spoke with The Monitor about what happened in San Juan and reflected on his decorated career while sharing details about his plans for the future.
“When I got hired, I got hired about my background in civil service,” Gonzalez said. “I remember telling the mayor and the commission back then, ‘I’m going to change the culture of the police department, I’m going to get the best training here, and I’m also going to build a new police department,’ which we did in 2017 with asset forfeiture funds.”
Gonzalez said that this was only the first of three phases that he hoped to oversee with the San Juan Police Department, but won’t be around to guide the department through the next two phases.
According to Gonzalez, officials just wanted a change.
“Sometimes, people have a different perspective,” Gonzalez said. “Elected officials come in and they have different views. They get elected for different reasons.
“Basically, I was just told, ‘We’re going to go in a different direction. To me, I don’t know what direction they’re going to go. I’ve worked in city government enough to understand that the chief position is a political position.”
Gonzalez said he didn’t bother with politics and instead chose to focus on his work.
Still, although aware of his position being a political one, he admitted to being surprised by the commission’s decision.
“I always felt that we’d done a great job,” Gonzalez said. “For 11-and-a-half years, we consistently kept a low crime rate. Of course, you can never predict violent crimes. That happens everywhere in every city. I was taken aback, but I was not surprised because working in city government and working with other chiefs of police who’ve been let go by city governments, we don’t want it to occur to us.”
While Gonzalez said that he doesn’t hold any grudges against the commission and city manager, he said that he wishes that things would’ve been handled differently.
“My main thing is that there’s nothing that shows I did anything wrong,” he said. “I still had a lot to do — phase two and phase three of rebuilding the police department, adding more stuff to it, we had just hired many new officers.
“They should’ve just called me in. This process was not necessary. All they had to do was bring me in and talk to me, and I would’ve understood. I was a city manager for 16 months, so I understand how city government works. But I hold no grudges. I’m nobody to judge anybody.”
Throughout his 31 years in law enforcement, he’s achieved Master Peace Officer Certification, he’s regional commander for the Law Enforcement Emergency Regional Response Team- SWAT, Region 12 director for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, Homeland Security committee member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and formerly served as president of the Rio Grande Valley Border Police Coalition.
He holds an associate degree in criminal justice from Texas Southmost College, a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from South Texas College, and in January he will be graduating from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley with a Master of Business Administration.
During his time with the Pharr and San Juan police departments, Gonzalez said he is most proud of the networks he built with other agencies that he believes helped lower the crime rate in the area.
In his retirement, the 52-year-old said that he plans to remain active in law enforcement.
“I’ve been doing some consulting work with other agencies, I’ve been doing some training, especially training for police survival tactics, and I’m going to continue doing that,” Gonzalez said. “I see myself enjoying my retirement because I didn’t get to enjoy my first one.”
Gonzalez also became emotional speaking about the police officers who worked under him, a role he took beyond work hours. He saw himself as a father figure to his officers.
“I’ve always taken care of my officers on duty and off duty,” Gonzalez said. “One thing that I’m going to miss the most is those calls in the middle of the night, making sure that those officers are getting the help that they need.”
Looking forward, Gonzalez said that another opportunity in law enforcement is not out of the question, but for now he will assess his options.
“When I left Pharr, the only reason I left was because I felt that San Juan was a good opportunity for me,” he continued. “My next step is going to be … if there’s an opportunity out there, another law enforcement opportunity or a leadership role, I will evaluate it and see if it’s the right opportunity for me.
“There’s life after retirement, and there’s life after law enforcement.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct information about Juan Gonzalez’s bachelor’s degree.