The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Police Chief 10% Raise Proposed

Santa Clara's police chief is up for a 10% raise to prevent "salary compaction," but even salary setting commissioners aren't sure what the chief's role is.

At its June 27 meeting, the Santa Clara City Council will consider raising the elected police chief’s salary by 10% to $313,692.

The raise is based on a recommendation made by the salary-setting commission at its May 1 meeting. Commissioners are concerned that the assistant chief salaries are close to that of the police chief — salary compaction — and “a chief should get more than a subordinate,” as one commissioner put it.*

“My concern is that we can pay the police chief at the bottom of the assistant chief range,” said another. “Now we’re at a point where, if the assistant chief gets a raise, we’ll always be behind. If we do 10% [raise] this year, we’re still in the game.”


However, the conversation showed that members of the salary-setting commission are unclear about how these models applied to an elected police chief.

“This isn’t like someone who is getting a promotion,” said one commissioner. “It’s someone who goes through another process [to get the job].”

The discussion revealed that the commissioners were surprised that the qualifications for the elected police chief, according to the City Charter, are lower than those required of the assistant police chiefs. To wit: the minimum requirement to run for police chief is a high school diploma, four years of policing experience and living in the City.

The minimum requirement for assistant chief is a bachelor’s degree, at least four years of policing experience — two as a Santa Clara Police Department Lieutenant— and Peace Officers Standards Training (P.O.S.T) or FBI leadership training.

“If you read the job description,” said one commissioner, “the assistant chief has many more basics to get there in terms of experience, the number things they’ve done, the level of education [all] that the chief doesn’t have.”

In considering the chief’s salary, the commission also tried to understand the chain of command in the police department. When a commissioner asked the committee’s HR liaison, Areceli Azevedo, if the assistant chiefs report to the police chief, the answer was, “They report to the City Manager.”

“They report to the City Manager?” another commissioner responded with a laugh. “The city manager doesn’t know anything about policing, That’s ridiculous.”

“I agree partially with that they do report to the city manager,” said Police Chief Patrick Nikolai. “That’s not 100% true. They report to me. They are appointed by the city manager. It’s a dotted line.”

“Both” Run the Police Department

“Who runs the police department?” sounds like a straightforward question. But when The Weekly asked the City, the answer was anything but straightforward.

The City sidesteps the question in the published police department organization chart. As seen in the city budget, the chart shows a matrix of four boxes without any chain of command.

So The Weekly asked City Hall to explain.

“As with all law enforcement agencies, the Santa Clara Police Department is a para-military organization, meaning that we have a rank structure,” City spokesperson Michelle Templeton told The Weekly.

“Line level employees report to first line supervisors (Sergeants, Supervisors, Seniors),” she continued. “First line supervisors report to managers (Lieutenants and civilian managers), managers’ report to Division Commanders (Captains), Division Commanders report to the Assistant Chiefs. Assistant Chiefs work cooperatively with the Elected Chief and report to the City Manager.”

When we asked who was ultimately in charge of the police department, the City’s answer appeared to be “both.”

“The Police Department is under direct supervision of the Chief of Police,” Templeton said. “However, the City Manager is the administrative head of the Police Department. The Chief of Police ‘shall cooperate with all executive policies and procedures established by the City Manager,’ per section 2.15.020 of the City Code.”

Former City Manager’s “Structural Changes” Created Present Confusion

This confusion didn’t seem to exist before 2020. Prior to that, the police chief was shown at the top of the line of command, as is customary in other cities.

The police chief’s compensation, like the city manager’s, was based on the miscellaneous management union contract.

After current Chief Pat Nikolai was elected in 2020, then-city manager Deanna Santana created a second assistant police chief position, with the assistant chiefs reporting directly to the city manager; describing this as “structural changes.”

“This new structure works to stabilize succession planning within the department, which has been a desired focus for quite some time,” Santana wrote in a memo to the City Council.

In addition to “stabilizing succession,” Santana also advised the council that setting the chief’s salary as a regular employee wasn’t strictly legal, and so the council created a salary-setting commission to set the salaries of elected officials. While this committee set the elected clerk’s honorarium at $18,000, it left the chief’s salary at its previous level, with raises commensurate with regular employees.

*The Santa Clara website only publishes an audio recording, and members of the salary-setting commission don’t identify themselves. Further, the recording is almost inaudible in spots and the city website doesn’t have a current list of commissioners. For these reasons, we decided it was better not to use names rather than making guesses.


  1. CSC 12 months ago

    According to Transparent California, Patrick Nikolai’s 2022 base salary was $313,692.08 so I believe the above is a typo. A 10% raise would bring the elected police chief’s base salary to approximately $345k, the highest in the County and second highest in the entire State of California.
    Nikolai has boasted about a resume on par with other top chiefs of police, but his own biography says differently. Nikolai is probably embarrassed about a degree mill “Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice” and he doesn’t appear to have advance courses of professional study similar to what other area police chiefs have…
    • Chris Hsiung, Mountain View: Master Business Management Notre Dame de Namur, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, President of Government Social Medial Leadership Council, Committee Member IACP’s Professional Standards, Ethics, and Image Committee. Board Member Chris Ready Institute. Board Member Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center.
    • Phan Ngo, Sunnyvale: Master’s Criminal Justice Boston University, Bachelor’s Admin. of Justice, SJSU, graduate Los Angeles Police Department Leadership Program, PERF Senior Management Institute.
    • Anthony Mata, San Jose: Master’s Public Administration San Jose State University, Bachelor’s University of Illinois, Police Executive Research Forum Senior Management Institute.
    • Gary Berg, Campbell: Master’s Organizational Leadership Grand Canyon University, Bachelor’s Psychology Santa Clara University, FBI National Academy.
    “Succession planning within the department” is exactly the position supporters of an appointed police chief have been arguing for many years. In addition to succession planning, having an appointed police chief would also mitigate risk to the city as, given the very small group of peace officers who currently live in the City, if something should happen to the elected police chief the future elected figurehead might be an undesirable officer with an irrelevant college degree and unapt domain experience.
    Nikolai doesn’t have the educational accomplishments or professional experience as other police chiefs but he wants to be compensated better than them anyhow. The Santa Clara City Council should deny his request and save that money for the upcoming ballot measure to let the voters decide on a change of the charter.

  2. Buchser Alum 12 months ago

    Can you give more insight into what the actual administrative duties and workloads of chief Nikolai’s are and how they compare to other chiefs of similar police departments?
    Are there other departments that have assistant chiefs paid higher than the actual chief like is the case here in Santa Clara?
    How does the combined salaries of Nikolai and Kazem and Rush compare to top brass combined salaries at similar sized departments? Is it higher or lower?

    I have nothing good or bad to say about Nikolai but I do agree his resume is underwhelming. I do not think that must mean that he is not qualified to serve as chief but I have always assumed he became chief because he won whatever political contest there was to be the SCPOA’s man for the job.

    • Buchser 2 12 months ago

      Buchser Alum-hole,
      Do your own dirty work and investigations. I agree with CSC: “The Santa Clara City Council should deny his request and save that money for the upcoming ballot measure to let the voters decide on a change of the charter.”

    • CSC 12 months ago

      If you would take the time to do some research it’s easy to see the current outlandish base salaries of Santa Clara’s two assitant chiefs is cause to reverse pay scales, not increase them.
      San Jose PD’s Assistant Police Chief was provided a $285k base salary in 2022. Due to their department being 7.5(x) the size of Santa Clara PD, they also have three Deputy Police Chiefs managing separate bureaus who are provided a $206k, $240k, and $271k base salary. Sunnyvale with 100 peace officers and Mountain View with 201 are good comparisons to Santa Clara’s 153. Each of those other two cities have populations of 155,805 and 82,376 respectively which again puts Santa Clara right in the middle. Sunnyvale’s two deputy chiefs, Hyun Choi and Ava Fanucchi, are each provided a $260k base salary and Mountain View’s only Deputy Chief, Jessica Nowaski, is provided a $271k base salary.
      If you average those seven “assistant chief” base salaries it comes out to approximately $256k. So how is it the City of Santa Clara justifies providing Wahid Kazem 34% more ($342k) and Derek Rush 27% more ($325k) than their near peers – some of whom have a lot more responsibility?
      If the City of Santa Clara imposed a 10% cut of base salary across all police and fire personnel, those employees would still make significantly more than their peers in all of Santa Clara County and allow the city to redirect millions of dollars per year to be spent on improving education and community services. This should be done.

      • Buchser Alum 12 months ago

        I was asking you because you seem to know a lot about the inner workings of the police department and I thought you might be able to answer my question off the top of your head not because I was trying to challenge anything you wrote.
        Thank you for the salaries of neighboring city assistant chiefs. Comparing us to Sunnyvale it appears that we have fat to cut in the pay of our top brass especially if Nikolai does not actually have the workload we should expect from a chief or assistant chief.

  3. City residents 12 months ago

    Since Nikolai’s duties have been split in half it’s makes sense to pay him half of the $313k he was making before.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


You may like