Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - June 24, 2011

Looking to the future

New police chief looking for tomorrow's leaders

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton Police Chief Dave Spiller has his sights set on the future.

Spiller, 43, took over as head of the department in May after about six months of sharing the responsibilities with his fellow captain at the time, Eric Finn. Now, Spiller is searching his department for the next generation of leaders.

"We need to develop our people to succeed," he said, "to develop tomorrow's leaders and put them in a position to keep the organization moving forward."

Spiller said there's a formal succession plan in place, but his focus is more about getting those who are currently younger officers and administrators ready to run the department.

He's probably looking for what upper management saw in him when he moved here from the Mountain View Police Department in 2002. Spiller began in Pleasanton as an administrative lieutenant but was made captain just a year later. In his nine years as captain, he's run both the investigations and operations divisions, where he received hands-on experience with everything the Police Department does.

Part of the process is grooming the next generation, he said, is deciding the future of the department.

"I'm spending time working with my staff," he said, and in particular sergeants, lieutenants and Finn, although he said his door is open to anyone who wants to get involved. "I'm identifying what is great about Pleasanton through their eyes" -- and what they see as problems. "That will determine the direction we want to go."

Spiller doesn't see any major changes in the department for the immediate future.

"I don't think anyone on my staff is going to see me pull the shroud on any great miraculous changes," he said. "We're keeping our hands on the wheel."

Part of that means continuing an approach that's been both successful and unpopular: traffic stops.

"Traffic has always been a high priority to this community -- managing it, educating people and enforcing laws," Spiller said, citing the three Es of traffic: enforcement, engineering and education.

"I don't want to apologize to anybody for being aggressive on traffic," he said. "I think we're doing a good job keeping people safe and at times it can even result in good police work."

Traffic stops have been a staple in Pleasanton law enforcement. They've resulted in far more than tickets, netting drug dealers, would-be burglars, people wanted for parole and probation violations, and in one case, the arrest of an accused pedophile. Sweeps of parks and parking lots have come up with stolen credit cards, forged debit cards, drug deals and stolen cars.

Spiller, who began his career in 1989 with the San Diego Police Department before moving north to Mountain View, understands that Pleasanton is a different type of police agency.

"We're a service organization. There is a high expectation of service and my goal is to meet that," he said. "I feel like we're doing great work and I don't really see any problems."

As with traffic enforcement, much of that comes from Spiller's predecessors, longtime chief Tim Neal and Mike Fraser, who served a bit less than four years before retiring.

"I want to build on the success we're having so far," Spiller said, "by staying innovative, by being creative in things that come up, by suppressing crime ... to maintain a high quality of life. Our role is to keep the place safe."

City Manager Nelson Fialho said there were three categories that put Spiller into the job: his temperament, his background with other agencies and his unwavering integrity.

"You want to know that your police chief is going to hold himself and others to the highest standards and I have every confidence he'll do that," Fialho said. "His background with Mountain View and San Diego gives him a broader perspective in leadership and Pleasanton will benefit from that, long term.

"In regard to temperament, Dave is very calm and very articulate. When it comes to the deployment of resources in an emergency and when it comes to articulating the goals of the department, you need those attributes and Dave has that."

Spiller, he said, is also an experienced speaker on topics including leadership, ethics and organizational efficiency.

Upon being promoted, Spiller was immediately called on to deal with the budget and worked with City Manager Nelson Fialho and the rest of the executive team to provide services while keeping the budget in balance. That budget was released last week, and continues the hiring freeze instituted two years ago.

For the Police Department, that leaves the officer-to-resident ratio at 1.25 to 1.5 officers per thousand residents, a little higher than Spiller would like, but still low enough for police, in his opinion, to accomplish their mission.

Spiller has some pretty strong requirements of those now serving under him.

"I expect our Police Department to be professional and produce professional, quality police work," he said. "I expect (officers to) practice aggressive traffic enforcement. I expect timely responses at emergencies and routine calls for service."

That's along with his commitment to "a high level of community engagement," which comes down to face-to face contact with residents and business owners alike.

Spiller became a police officer around the time many departments started requiring officers to have a degree. He holds a master's degree in arts from Saint Mary's College and received a bachelor's degree in science at the University of San Francisco. He also is a graduate of the California Command College and the Senior Management Institute for Police at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

He and his wife Kathleen have a 3-year-old daughter.

Even though he's been chief for a little over a month, Spiller said he already feels at home.

"I feel very supported and I think the organization is ready to get behind me," he said. "I love these guys. They work hard and I'm proud to be their leader and I look forward to continuing to do great things in the years to come."

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