Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - May 20, 2011

New police chief is truly a 'cop's cop'

It's been more than half a century since a local marshal armed with a shotgun and several volunteer deputies patrolled the streets of Pleasanton. That ended in the mid-1950s when Walter McCloud was hired as the city's first police chief. He served until 1981 when he retired and was succeeded by Bill Eastman. Eastman, who after retiring ran unsuccessfully for mayor, is best remembered for vowing that "if you never give up the streets (to criminals), you'll never have to take them back." He earned a hard-on-crime reputation that made Pleasanton known among trouble-makers as a city they should never "mess with."

Tim Neal, who succeeded Eastman when he retired in 1999, kept Eastman's tough-on-crime policies but also opened up the Police Department to the general public. Police academies were formed for adults and youths, volunteer officers were trained for crowd control at downtown events; Neal even became a well-known Pleasanton spokesman at public events, on local television, at Rotary and other social organization meetings and in schools. He held two open houses at the police station with public tours and traffic safety demonstrations that attracted hundreds of visitors. Mike Fraser, a career Pleasanton police officer who succeeded Neal in 2007, was a less public figure but a strong leader within the department. He also served at a time of financial belt-tightening as the recession affected all city services. Unfortunately, health problems caused Fraser to retire last November after only four years in the post.

Last Monday, Police Capt. Dave Spiller became Pleasanton's fifth police chief. Well-known in the community and regarded by the 87 sworn officers and others in the department as a "cop's cop," his swearing-in ceremony brought loud applause from nearly 200 who packed the City Council chamber, including many off-duty police officers and firefighters who donned their uniforms to come to the Civic Center event. At age 43, it's likely that Spiller will be our chief for years to come. Besides impressive credentials that include undergraduate and advanced degrees in science, the arts and police management, Spiller has worked both sides of the table in his profession. He was a patrol officer with the San Diego Police Department, a motorcycle cop in Mountain View's department, and has worked in patrol and investigations here in Pleasanton. He was president of the police union for a year in Mountain View. Combined with his leadership role as a captain in Pleasanton, management training at Harvard and union negotiating skills gained in Mountain View, Spiller will be a valuable asset in the coming months as negotiations on a new police contract get under way.

Spiller also will have the support of Capt. Eric Finn, another career Pleasanton officer who was a runner-up for the chief's post. Like Spiller, Finn is in his early 40s, is well-known in community circles, and has equally impressive credentials. As a long-time DARE officer, he also has the uncanny ability to remember hundreds of fourth- and fifth-graders who went through the program years ago, calling them by their first names when he sees them on the streets of Pleasanton. Where some cities spend thousands of dollars to search the country for candidates for their police chiefs, Pleasanton had two top-notch officers to choose from in its own ranks. What's more, Spiller and Finn, who shared the responsibilities for running the department for the last six months since Fraser retired, have a good working relationship that bodes well for Pleasanton and its Police Department in the coming years.

Editor's note:

Correction: The editorial on May 6 should have said that TBWB Strategies a consulting group was paid $85,102 by the Pleasanton school district to develop strategy for winning the Measure E parcel tax election. The school district incurred additional costs of $200,000 to $250,000 to hold the mail-by-ballot election.

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