The city has announced a new police chief and it’s neither Interim Police Chief Danny Fish nor Lieutenant Dave Sears.
Instead, the new top cop comes from Desert Hot Springs and will start August 13.
Chief Patrick Williams spent five years as chief of the city of 28,000 where he is credited with implementing a community based policing philosophy, where officers interact more with the public, as well as overseeing a multi-jurisdictional gang operation and obtaining funding for the agency.
“Chief Williams’ experience is tailor made for what we need in Petaluma,” said City Manager John Brown, who embarked on the search for a new chief last September and involved not only a hiring firm, but a panel of law enforcement experts, department heads and citizens to whittle down the initial 42 candidates.
The decision to select an outside candidate was based at least in part on the desire to avoid conflict at the police department, where factions had already started forming backing either Lt. Sears or Interim Chief Dan Fish, according to observers.
“It’s been difficult right along with two contemporaries vying for the same goal,” said Brian Sobel, a political consultant and close observer of Petaluma city politics. “The cleanest solution was to go outside the agency and move beyond the search. Plus, Williams brings in a fresh perspective.”
The hiring of the new chief means both Fish and Sears will now be lieutenants, meaning not only a pay cut, but also a far less visible role in the department.
“For Dan and Dave, it’s a hard pill to swallow because they both believed they could be chief,” Sobel said.
The announcement doesn’t mean that either Fish or Sears would not leave to pursue a chief position at another agency, given the relatively high turnover of police chiefs and multiple openings throughout the Bay Area. Sears was not immediately available for a comment, but Fish said he was not interested in pursuing employment with another agency.
"I'm not in the market for a chief's job and am committed to this agency whether as chief, captain or lieutenant," said Fish, who has had a 23 year career with the Petaluma Police Department. "And I'm not disgruntled in any way and very pleased with the caliber of the candidate we've attracted."
Fish, who has served as the city's interim chief since 2009, will help transition Chief Williams and get him up to speed on issues facing the department. Williams has a three-decade long career in law enforcement and a masters degree in Leadership from St. Mary's College.
Among Williams' major achievements during his tenure in Desert Hot Springs was Operation Falling Sun, a multi-agency gang sweep that resulted in 150 arrests. He also led two successful tax measures that are estimated to generate $40 million in funding for public safety, something the Petaluma peace officers' union also supports.
But his career has not been without blemish.
In February, the Desert Hot Springs police officers’ union gave Williams a vote of no confidence, saying the disciplinary process at that agency was one sided, there was no fairness in promotions and that most officers would leave for another jurisdiction if they could.
According to the Desert Star Weekly, morale was identified as a problem in the department by a near unanimous factor of 16 – 1.
A call to Williams on Thursday was not immediately returned.
What do you think about the announcement? Who would you have liked to see as Petaluma's top cop?