OPED: Retired Captains Support Pat Nikolai Over Dan Winter for Police Chief

By Brian Gilbert, Steve Buress, and Phil Cooke

This is an open letter to Santa Clara residents who we proudly served and protected for a combined 85 years. We recently retired as Captains from the Santa Clara Police Department.

Next year, you will vote to elect a new Santa Clara Police Chief. For the dedicated men and women of the Santa Clara Police Department, this is a critical election. Santa Clara voters will have a chance to pick a new leader and we hope they will choose someone who establishes a new direction.

In the past, our department was a model for other local law enforcement agencies. We achieved that distinction because we had good people throughout our department and, most importantly, we had good leadership.

Unfortunately, our reputation has suffered in recent years. While we still have dedicated men and women protecting Santa Clara each and every day, we have been saddled with poor leadership. 

In 2016, Police Chief Mike Sellers received a “no confidence” vote from the rank-and-file officers. That was a historic and eye-opening action. Like most police departments, we have a culture of respecting our leadership. For officers to overwhelming and publicly reject a police chief, it was viewed as an act of courage and desperation. 

The most courageous amongst the troops was then-Seargeant Pat Nikolai. While many officers clearly felt we needed a new police chief, only Pat was willing to step up and put his name and career on the line to run for office. This was not an easy thing to do, especially against an incumbent who had a reputation for punishing those who disagreed with him. Pat nearly won with 49.9 percent of the vote in 2016, demonstrating that Santa Clarans understood the need for change. 

Fortunately, Pat is running for Police Chief in 2020 as a Lieutenant. He has our full support. Pat is a collaborative leader who has the respect of the troops. He is not afraid to make a decision and will take action to implement the reforms the department needs today. Because Pat was not part of the previous management team, he will have a free hand to make needed changes in the critical area of communications, deployment, recruitment, compliance with Measure J, and neighborhood safety. 

The other candidate is Assistant Police Chief Dan Winter who was the former police chief’s right hand and enabled the department’s weak leadership. He would rather ignore the problems from the previous administration than act to fix them. Winter touts his credentials. But police officers respect leaders who can make tough decisions whether it’s day-to-day or in a crisis. Winter is only a leader on paper and consequently doesn’t have the respect of the troops or senior officers, many of whom will retire rather than serve with him as police chief. In the past, the department lost some good officers because of bad management. It would be disastrous to lose more.

As the campaign unfolds, we hope to continue to share our perspective on a city and department that we care deeply about. Thank you for reading.


  1. I am for Winter. He is out and about making his presence known. He is very approachable by children and adults in the community. I want a chief that is active, concerned and capable of doing the job. Winter is my can do chief.

  2. I know Dan on a personal level. He is a man of leadership, integrity, and kindness. He has demonstrated his commitment to serving the people of Santa Clara through his 30 years of service in law enforcement as well as his education. He received a full fellowship to Santa Clara school of Law, graduating with honors, is a member of the CA Bar, and is a graduate of the prestigious FBI Academy and the Sherman Block Leadership Academy In Southern California. He has worked extremely hard in the Santa Clara police department and was promoted through every rank to earn his position as Assistant Chief. However, besides all that, he is a faithful, husband, father, and citizen of Santa Clara. He has been married to his wife for 25 years. His wife is a teacher in the Santa Clara school district. And his three children have attended Santa Clara schools from preschool through high school. You have probably seen him, his wife, or one of his children volunteering in a city or school event. He is a leader by example, and he has had a huge impact on our community. I have full confidence in Dan Winter’s ability to be the next chief of Police.

  3. Winter is not Sellers. Winter cares deeply about the community. We see that time and time again with his involvement in community affairs (Special Olympics, DARE, Coffee with a Cop). He cares about the people and his own department, even if the majority hates him. The problem with Santa Clara officers is that they are spoiled. They have it better, and get paid more, than most police officers in other cities – just ask any ex-Palo Alto officer. Why are SC officers always complaining? Their job is to serve the citizens and they get paid damn well to do it. Pat seems like a good guy, but he also seems to be a puppet for others who have less than honest motives. Winter may be unpopular internally, but as a citizen, he’s got MY vote of confidence. I want a Chief that SHOWS he cares about the people and not JUST his own department followers.

  4. Winter is his own man. He was #2 to Sellers but did not approve of his leadership. He’s told many of us many times that he never trusted Sellers. He didn’t agree with him on personnel stuff. Or the stadium stuff. Or even discipline. Don’t hold Sellers against Winter.

  5. This is more about boosting their $400,000 annual retirement benefits.
    This should be an appointed position like the rest of the state. There is no benefit to the city, just the POA.
    At a minimum, there needs to be a 4 year commitment so the residents don’t have to the bear
    the cost of a special election allowing the Chief to Max out their payout.
    It’s time to appoint our Chief of Police.

  6. Gimme me a damn Nikolai lawn sign! He’s got my vote after reading this. A Police Chief is suppose to be a leader, someone with balls. Nikolai looks like he has a pair. And their BRASS!

    I’m sick and tired of weak leaders. I’m even more tired of enablers. Look at the White House and all the enablers around President Dump. They’ve created a mess!

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