New Police Chief Outlines Vision for City, Department

Wants to create mini-beats to help officers interact with residents, hold regular community meetings, recruit new volunteers and groom the next generation of officers, sergeants and lieutenants.

Petaluma’s new police chief has many plans for the department, including smaller beats that give officers a chance to develop a rapport with a specific neighborhood, more focus on code enforcement and a mentoring program to nurture the next generation of sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

Since starting August 13, Chief Patrick Williams has been busy holding one-on-one meetings with sworn staff to hear their thoughts about what’s working and what needs improvement.

He has also put out a memo outlining his vision for the 84-member department, where morale has been low in recent years due to budget cuts, low salaries (at least compared to surrounding cities) and factions that formed over the appointment of the chief’s position.

Central to that vision is community policing, a style of law enforcement where officers work with residents, business owners, nonprofits and clergy to tackle various issues.

“We’ve got a great shop here and also a lot of smart people in the community,” says the 48-year-old Williams who spent five years as police chief in Desert Hot Springs, a town of about 28,000 in the Coachella Valley. “We need to leverage our relationships to attract more volunteers to the department, whether it’s at the front desk, traffic unit or detectives, and collaborate with community groups to solve problems.”

One of Williams’ hopes is to divide police beats into smaller sectors, assign specific officers to those areas and organize community meetings twice a year in each area to give residents a direct outlet to voice their concerns. Officers would then work to solve the problems and report back four to six months later.

It’s the same approach Williams used in Desert Hot Springs, where he is credited with reducing crime and restoring the public’s trust in the police department.

“Our city has a history of high crime rate and there is a lot of appreciation of what he did to get that down and get it down significantly,” said Russell Betts, a Desert Hot Springs councilman. “He runs a tight ship and zeroes in on a problem and gets it fixed.”

Under Williams’ leadership, the police department launched an iPhone app that allowed residents to report a crime right from their phones and started a committee aimed at addressing gang involvement among youth.

Williams, who has a master’s degree in leadership from St. Mary’s College, is thoughtful and favors a methodical approach to issues. But he’s also not afraid of getting tough when required.

In Desert Hot Springs, one of the things locals still talk about is Operation Falling Sun, a multi-agency gang sweep that involved nearly 700 officers and arrested more than 100 gang members.

“Gangs are not just a policing issue, but a community issue that needs an approach from schools, churches and organizations,” says Williams, adding that he is still familiarizing himself with the extent of Petaluma’s gang problem.

The new chief also inherits a department where a quarter of all sworn officers will be eligible for retirement in less than five years. To prepare for the retirement of older personnel, Williams wants to implement a mentoring program that to train officers who are interested in promoting to higher ranks.

“Being able to impact the leadership structure in the department is an attractive part of the job for me,” he says.

Williams also wants to find a way to get officers back into local schools (for which funding was eliminated two years ago) and be more proactive when it comes to code enforcement.

Yet his arrival in Petaluma has not been without controversy with a federal lawsuit being filed just days after he accepted the job. The suit alleges that Williams discouraged a female officer from cooperating with FBI investigators on an excessive force case and scolded her when he found out that she had spoken with federal agents. (The excessive abuse occurred before Williams arrived to the department in 2007.)

He has also been criticized for taking too long to conduct an investigation into a “sexting” incident in which a police officer sent a photo of his genitals to a female colleague.

Williams says he never obstructed the investigation and that there is more to the “sexting” incident that the public knows, but that he can’t discuss it because it was a personnel matter.

“I have secret FBI clearance and have been investigated so many times,” he says, clearly exasperated. “Do you think if I had obstructed an FBI investigation, I’d be sitting here talking to you?...It just flies in the face of everything that I stand for.”

As Williams walks a reporter out of his office, he passes by his white board, on which he is fond of drawing diagrams and writing reminder notes. On the very top is one of his mottos, scribbled in a red pen that seems apt given the accusations swirling around him: “Secrecy is the enemy of trust.” 

Tom Maxwell September 19, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Chief Williams is a high minded public servant, with a good idea for localized beats. My father was a career city manager, so I lived with his experiences and learned a lot about good government and police issues. I wonder if the idea of localized beats could include a periodic stationary appearance by the officers, so that the localized neighborhood could meet, talk to, and even get a contact card from, the officers. For example, the Morningstar development, which has a community center with weekly board meetings, could have the officers there, or at other times, just hanging out in one place for an hour, or even simply walking around. Yeah, get out of the car and shake some hands. Maybe even leave the gun and the stick in the car. Tom Maxwell maxwelllaw@aol.com
Tom Joynt September 19, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Holding community meetings is a great idea. I am reminded of our late Chief Dennis DeWitt who sat with teens, concerned neighbors and various adults at the Phoenix Theater here in town - over the issues kids had with the police. And with issues the Police had with kids. Also present was Captain Dave Long and an officer assigned to the beat, the meeting went well, changed a few perceptions for awhile, letting kids speak clearly in a civil manner and get a respectful meeting. This was in the mid 90's, a time of greater communication - of a "Teen Town Hall Meeting", organized in part by Molly (Touhy) Wertz. Lets be hopeful, Tom Joynt
Bradford A Morris September 19, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Tom Your are so right!!!! Now I hope this new cheif can see there are attitudes over the top in the department with some of the officers in higher rank. Petaluma is not a getto town but it has it's share of problems and the gangs are spreading everywhere so being in touch with the kids and the parents and anyone who has something to say is how to resolve problems and get success. I saw Dewitt as an chief as a neighbor and a father. He was a good man but took care of business with no BS when needed. Cheir this is what we need now. Your department has some bad eggs clean them out and you will be in good shape. The volunteers cumminity Officers is a great idea. But remember nobody wants to work for free with your boss being a ego jerk. Good luck Cheif I support your change and help in anyway I can.
Bradford A Morris September 19, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Tom I support your idea but no officer should ever leave his gun or any protective gear behind when on duty or even off for that matter. It is a high risk job and some people have no respect for officers and would love to see them unarmed for a chance to do them harm. At lease Tom you are giving ideas rather then sitting back and watching Petaluma go down the tubes because of bad management. Good Job!
sadie September 19, 2012 at 05:33 PM
"More Focus on Code Enforcement" Great go after the property owners that put up a fence, roof or water heater without a permit. Lien their properties to create revenue. How about enforcing the sign ordinance, getting rid of sandwich signs, and those businesses that exceed signage by painting their windows. Is this what we want from our police department?
BM September 19, 2012 at 05:52 PM
I used to live in Petaluma and love the quaintness of that town. I have also met Pat Williams first hand. He is an intelligent man and has great ideas. In MY opinion/case he seemed to be like a Politician. Tell you anything you want to hear, but do what he wants anyway. I only hope that he treats his Command Staff and officers better than he did in Desert Hot Springs. Time will tell.
Bradford A Morris September 19, 2012 at 06:29 PM
That would not surprize me due to the the people who are doing a horrible job now picked him. I guess it is better if all the eggs are the same good or bad. Time will tell. Not the kind of responce I was hopeing tohear but thank you for the heads up. Have a great day!
Darris September 19, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Fabulous idea! I have a 16 year-old son and he's a Petaluma resident (lives with his dad). He and his friends take a rather dim view of police officers in general because the only contact they have is when they're stopped for some (typically minor) infraction. Regular meetings are a great idea for balance.
Veronika Noble September 19, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I agree with all that’s been said here. This is Petaluma we’re talking about, not Desert Hot Springs, its a city of over 48k (I believe?) not of 28k.-- I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Williams wrote the '“Secrecy is the enemy of trust”, quote on his whiteboard specially for the benefit of said reporter. If he lives by that quote as a value, than I would think he would have revealed some of the legal matters that were pending concerning him to the P town people involved in the selection process--instead of keeping it in confidence and embarrassing the P town folk. -- oh wait? Would he think if he disclosed that info he would be outa the running for the position? Hmmm --- The sexting issue is just another example of his inability to accept responsibility for not taking action sooner- his reply "there is more to it..." duh. there is always more to anything, however an officer sexting a picture of his genitals to someone is pretty much enough said.....is that the kinda cop you want running your beat? I know I said before I would remain out of this controversy (on my FB post) with this new chief, esp since it doesn’t effect my family directly as we have moved from Petaluma, but I have lived almost my entire life in P town and I leave behind many, many wonderful friends and family, and an awesome community that I think deserves the best..... and there aint no way Williams meets that standard.
Bradford A Morris September 19, 2012 at 09:23 PM
OMG what? Veronika it seems to be the norm for acceptance to do stupid things. If you did things right then it comes down who side is the right side. The old saying love it or leave it. Getting involved to make a change can make it worst and hurt you because of mean people who do not agree with you. I have said many times I was thiking of leaving Petaluma due to the people running it , police, council, mayor etc were not doing the job right! In the end result all this makes me less happy to live in Petaluma. I am sure my day's here are numbered! Thanks for your input.
BM September 19, 2012 at 11:29 PM
I’d like to clarify my earlier post on this Article. My reference was to Mr. Williams ONLY. It had nothing to do with Petaluma PD or the Citizens of Petaluma. I will only comment on what MY actual experience was, based on MY interpretation. For the past 16 years, I have always considered Law Enforcement my “2nd Family”. I appreciate the Oath and Risk taken every day, by the Men/Women in Law Enforcement.
David C. Couper September 20, 2012 at 03:39 PM
How should you evaluate your new police chief? For insight and direction on this and other important police improvement issues, take a look at “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” (Amazon.com in US and EU). And the blog at http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/ where other current police improvement issues are discussed. Good luck and may we all experience not just good but great policing! Great policing is accomplished by police who are well-trained and led, restrained in their use of force, honest, and courteous to every person.
Bradford A Morris September 21, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Very nice well said David C. Couper!!!!!


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