By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"It's just gotta be tough to be Frank Balkcom these days--a decent guy stuck between his imperfect department and his screwed-up kid."
The Glendale in which Frank Balkcom grew up was a far cry from today's burgeoning city.
When Balkcom was born in 1955, Glendale was a farm town on the Valley's outskirts with a population of about 13,000. Today, its population is about 177,000 and, according to the Census Bureau, it's the nation's 14th fastest-growing city.
Balkcom, who identified with the Hispanic side of his family, says he learned the meaning of racism as a youngster. As recently as the mid-1960s, he recalls, the City of Glendale only allowed Hispanics to use its lone swimming pool the day before it was to be cleaned.
For decades, many of Glendale's poorer Hispanics traditionally have lived in three housing projects. The Balkcom clan's small home was near the Ocotillo projects.
Balkcom's father wasn't in the picture. The Georgia native had met Frank's mother, Frances, while stationed in Casa Grande during World War II. He fathered several children--Frank has ten siblings and half-siblings--but abandoned the family when Frank was a youngster.
Frank Balkcom's male role models were his older brothers, who floated in and out of jail for various crimes. Balkcom says he, too, participated in several burglaries and other crimes as a teen. He spent more than a year in reform school before returning to Glendale.
After his release, Balkcom was befriended by a parole officer, a tough ex-Marine who urged him to enlist. Armed with a newly earned GED, Balkcom at 18 took the leap.
"Being a cocky little punk, I thought I could eat those guys up," he says. "I found out I wasn't half as tough as I thought I was. I also found out what being a man is."
To this day, Balkcom oozes Marine--with his erect bearing, neatness, clipped speaking manner and belief in discipline. He's still a sergeant in the Marine Reserves, and his office at the police station is dominated by posters and slogans--"U.S. Marine Corps--Loyalty and Integrity," one says.
Balkcom says he transferred that loyalty and integrity to the Glendale Police Department when he signed on as a patrolman in 1982.
"I knew I was a Hispanic going into a white department," he says, "but I was honored that they'd have me. I've been good to go ever since."
Balkcom and his wife, Ruth, were raising four sons, and he says he didn't want them to grow up without a father, as he had. But Balkcom admits his career often took priority.
"My hours rarely have been 8 to 5, weekends off," he says. "I was really into helping others, but when I think about it now, I think I could have done a better job in being there more for my own family."
His oldest son, Frank Jr., now a well-spoken 21-year-old, recalls his youth ambivalently.
"My dad was trying to save la raza [the race] and that was cool," he says. "He'd take poor kids to the Suns games, start reading projects, walk the projects all the time. But he was kind of hard for me and Eli to relate to sometimes--talking down to us and stuff. Now, he treats me much more like a man."
Balkcom's office for several years was at Cholla Vista, one of Glendale's toughest projects. He walked that and two other neighboring projects daily.
"I was right near where I grew up," he says, "keeping tabs on what was going on. Most people in the projects are very good people. All it takes is a couple of tweakers or bangers to make things bad. I knew everybody, and who belonged where."
In August 1993, the Glendale police promoted Balkcom to sergeant, which meant a transfer to the station on 63rd Avenue and Union Hills Drive. His first evaluation as a command officer was outstanding.
"Your working relationships have continued to be very good and very productive," Lieutenant James Curtis wrote in January 1994. "You have once again handled several citizen complaints in an efficient and timely manner. Your squad continues to be the leader in Community Policing."
But as his career soared, things at home soured.
Eli Balkcom tries to swagger into the visitors' room at the Madison Street Jail, but he can't. Six months behind bars--and facing a potential prison term--have put a slump in his shoulders and a shuffle in his step.
The former "Nasty Boy" has a pleasant demeanor, and he's eager to talk about his life and times. His attorney, Joe Chornenky, who isn't present, has warned Eli not to talk specifics.
He's not particularly fast on his feet, and seems to have little perspective on the hell he has wrought. His comments lend credence to what those who know Eli well say about him: That he talks big, and is incapable of keeping secret his deeds and misdeeds.
Eli, however, offers little about his longtime affiliation with the Barrios Chicos Locos (BCL) gang.
"I did some shit I shouldn't have done, but that's who I was," he says, flashing a sudden smile. "That's a blast from the past. When they busted me, I was being cool for a change. I was working all day and then hanging with my buddy, chillin' with [girlfriend] Christine and [their daughter] Celeste."