Santa Clara is the ONLY city in the entire State of California to have an elected Chief of Police.
I contend that Santa Clarans don’t actually have a choice in selecting their Chief of Police. The current Chief of Police, Pat Nikolai, ran unopposed in his last two elections March 2020 and November 2020. Mike Sellers also ran unopposed when he first got elected in 2012.
The Police Officer’s Association (POA) has already created a website saveourpolicechief.com and is placing Facebook ads to oppose even putting this on the ballot so that voters can decide. The Political Action Committee or PAC run by the POA has spent heavily in every election to help certain candidates get elected.
On June 18th, 2016, Scott Herhold from the Mercury News wrote: The elected police chief, Mike Sellers, is suddenly facing a serious challenge from the longtime leader of the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association, Pat Nikolai, on the November ballot. Anointed by his predecessors, Sellers was elected without opposition four years ago to his first term. You have to reach back two decades, to the 1996 battle between then-chief Charlie Arolla and Rich Rodriquez, to find a fight of similar dimensions.
Many believe that Pat Nikolai lost his first election in 2016 against Mike Sellers because Pat was only a sergeant and didn’t have management experience. He probably would not have been hired as Chief of Police in any of our neighboring cities due to lack of management experience.
Nikolai was then promoted to Lieutenant in 2018.
I hear that Dan Winter decided not to run against Pat Nikolai in 2020 because POA vowed to spend $250K to oppose Dan. Which is why Nikolai ran unopposed and got elected even though Dan Winter had been Assistant Chief of Police and has a B.A. in Management, a J.D. from Santa Clara University and is a member of the California Bar. Nikolai’s main qualification seems to me that he was POA president for 18 years.
I checked with POA president Jeremy Schmidt and he confirmed that any candidate for Chief of Police must reside in the City of Santa Clara. That severely limits the pool of candidates for Chief of Police.
I filed a 030 request in June 2022. At the time there were only 12 sworn officers (including the Chief) out of a force of 153 sworn who live in the City.
At the time the ranks of officers living in the City were as follows:
Police Chief – 1
Police Captain – 1
Police Lieutenant – 2
Police Sergeant – 1
Police Officer – 7
This seems to me to be a very limited pool to draw from and, when considering management experience, the pool shrinks even further.
I wonder who the POA will pick to be our next elected Chief when Pat Nikolai retires. I fully expect that person will run unopposed.
From the Santa Clara Weekly on March 30,2022: A survey of 30 representative California cities shows that Santa Clara has one of the least qualified and highest paid police chiefs in California. Whether it’s education, professional certification or public safety management experience, elected Police Chief Patrick Nikolai ranks far from the top.
At the same time, Santa Clara is in California’s top 10 (of all cities) for police chief salary. And it appears to be one of few cities — perhaps the only one — whose police chief was the long-time president of the police union. https://www.svvoice.com/santa-claras-elected-police-chief-system-fails-to-make-the-grade/
I believe that Santa Clara should be able to recruit from the best police forces in the Nation for our Police Chief just like all the other cities in California do.
Also if we switch to an appointed Chief of Police then many of our senior PD management folks with the most experience who don’t live in the City would then eligible to be appointed and serve as Chief.
SV-VOICE: reported on Aug 12, 2020: Longtime Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) veterans Captains Wahid Kazem and Derek Rush were promoted to the assistant chief positions. Sources close to City Hall, who aren’t authorized to talk to the press, report Police Chief Patrick Nikolai no longer participates in City executive leadership team meetings. Chief Nikolai ran unopposed for his partial term in the March 2020 election. He is up for reelection in November 2020.
I’ve heard over the years from several prominent people that they don’t even know what Chief Nikolai does while he is in this position. Perhaps that’s why the former City Manager appointed two Assistant Police Chiefs in 2020.
Nikolai is certainly not impartial.
- On October 22, 2020, he participated along with Alex Torke, Burt Field, Lisa Gillmor, Teresa O’Neill in a political press conference that was illegally held within 100 feet of a ballot box in front of City Hall.
- In August 2022, there was a closed session meeting where Mayor Gillmor and Kathy Watanabe accused Anthony Becker of threatening them and the Mayor said she was so worried that she called the police. She actually called her friend, Pat Nikolai. Officers showed up only because Interim CM Rajeev Batra called them due to a potentially unstable attendee at the Council Chambers. An independent investigation subsequently found that Anthony Becker did not act in a threatening manner.
- On October 10, 2022 Nikolai penned a public letter to District Attorney Jeff Rosen asking him to investigate findings in the Grand Jury report even though the Grand Jury made no criminal referrals. This was in the middle of a close election battle between Mayor Gillmor and Anthony Becker. It seems that Rosen has chosen not to act on any on the findings in the report despite Nikolai’s urging.
Please note that the survey included in the packet was commissioned by the POA and surveyed only 350 people. I believe the following question was misleading like: Did you know Santa Clara is one of the last cities in California to “elect” their Chief of Police? Santa Clara is the ONLY city in the State of California to elect its Chief of Police.
Again, I will be very surprised if there were more than one candidate in the next election for Chief of Police.