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.