In his 28 years in the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD), new Police Chief Pat Nikolai has seemingly done it all.
“As soon as I got hired by the Santa Clara Police Department, I moved into the city,” said Nikolai.
Nikolai worked as a patrol officer and field training officer before joining the crime scene program and working his way into the detective bureau. Recently, he was promoted to Lieutenant and shortly thereafter, he was elected as Chief of the SCPD.
“I’m honored to be the Chief for Santa Clara,” said Nikolai. “I am so thankful that the residents voted for me and I want them to know that I will do everything I can to protect the citizens of this city.”
Nikolai was sworn in on April 28 in a nearly empty council chamber. There were only a few people there including his wife and Mayor Lisa Gillmor.
“It was surreal,” said Nikolai.
But he understands that there’s more at stake than a ceremony.
“I missed out on a big swearing in, [but] I think of the poor high school kids, they’re missing out on their prom. The seniors, their prom, their graduation. My daughter’s graduating from college this year and her graduation is canceled. So, in the big scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience,” said Nikolai.
Taking over a department in a crisis is tough, but Nikolai is focused on the safety of his personnel.
“We have an entire team that’s dedicated to nothing but taking care of our officers and our employees. Not only the officers on the street but the employees, dispatchers, records, people here in the building,” said Nikolai. “You know, we’re following best practices. We’re making sure that we have all the PPE gear available that they need and we’re decontaminating vehicles and the building as often as we need to.”
When this is over, he knows his next challenge will be a budget crisis.
“Before COVID hit, I was talking about expanding the department…and now it’s going to be the conversation what kind of cuts do we have to make?” said Nikolai. “My hope is that we’re going to be able to successfully navigate these next few years without having to make any significant cuts to service. I think that’s going to be the big challenge for us. It’s the old saying, do more with less.”
When some sense of normalcy returns, Nikolai says one of his biggest focuses will be traffic enforcement before and after school.
“When you hear about the speeding in front of schools…some of our schools are on major streets. If you ever sit in front of Pomeroy [Elementary] during school, you will have people racing back and forth on that street,” said Nikolai. “I really feel for the crossing guards. They’re out there, trying to help these kids and people just ignore them or drive around them or just drive recklessly.”
He also wants to work on mitigating stadium events and keeping neighborhoods around the city safe through increased officer patrols.
“Because I’m a resident, I realize how important it is to feel safe in your home,” said Nikolai.
And he wants to community to know, he has an open-door policy.
“I know that we’re in a lockdown right now, but I do have an open-door policy and maybe right now it’s an open phone or an open email policy, but if anybody wants to reach out to me, I will definitely respond to them,” said Nikolai.
Chief Nikolai was elected during a special election in March. He replaces former Chief Mike Sellers, who retired before his term expired. Chief Nikolai will be up for re-election in November 2020.