Pleasanton police chief Dave Spiller this month is celebrating the start of his fourth year as head of the Pleasanton Police Department.
He joined the Pleasanton police in 2002 as a lieutenant, was promoted to captain in 2003 and served in that role until being named police chief in May 2011.
In a recent interview, Spiller reflected on his time in Pleasanton and talked about his goals moving forward, the current state of the department and changes on the horizon, including a new department brand and tomorrow's Open House.
"I'm in a place that's just kind of perfect for my personality, my leadership style and what I want as a public servant," Spiller said.
When you first came to Pleasanton in 2002, what was the state of the department?
Spiller: "When I started here in Pleasanton, I was hired by Chief Tim Neil as a lieutenant. Chief Neil was really working toward opening the organization to the community, to create this connectiveness between what we do and who we serve, started a lot of great programs that furthered that goal of community connection.
I felt like when I got hired here it was a time of change. I was hired with four other lieutenants, so we were all kind of brand new in our role. A year later a captain retired and we were all competing for that captain spot. I was promoted. It was really a time of change ... and growth, not a bad thing, just a transition."
Why did you decide to apply for police chief?
"I don't know if I was ever on a mission to be police chief. I feel like I've been a law enforcement leader on a lot of different levels in different organizations.
As I was preparing to compete for the position, I was focused on what we do and what we do for this community that we serve. What's unique about us? What Pleasanton (PD) is to our community is very different than any other police department to their community.
We're very lucky to have a good connection with our community. I think we're really lucky to be supported by our community. I think it's kind of cyclical where ... are we supported because we meet the high expectations of the community or do we meet the high expectations because we're supported. It's a great environment to work in."
When you became police chief, what were your goals for the department and what steps did you take to achieve them?
"I was lucky that I came from the inside. When you're promoted as a member of the organization, appointed to the chief's role, you kind of have some advantage -- knowing the players and having developed or established relationships.
In my work, in my study, in my preparation to compete for this job, I walked around and saw what we were good at and what I thought we need to improve on. I looked at the opportunities we have in the community and as an organization. Knowing what I know, as an inside guy, what should we be doing? That opened my eyes to create the foundation of my vision for the organization.
I started working on a vision statement for the organization before I got this job. It talks about how important it is that we rely on one another. It talks about the value of working together and supporting one another in this line of work.
It also talks about how important it is that we be connected to the community to meet those expectations. It's a calling of recollection to why we all came to serve. It's an awareness of our responsibilities for professionalism and to be proud of who we are, not only as police officers, but who we are as Pleasanton police officers.
My reflection also forced me to look at what is going to happen here in the next five to seven years. We're seeing these key staff members retire, and how do we prepare ourselves to not lose that culture, to not lose that experience. We can't help but lose that experience, but how do we get others ready for what's next for them?"
How has the department changed since?
"The department has changed in a lot of ways, subtle and conspicuous.
We have a new look out there in the community. We've gone from those old Ford sedans to these new SUVs. I think it communicates this innovation and newness that's very different to the way people used to see us. I think we stand out, but hopefully in a positive way.
We have a totally different schedule deployment from when I was hired here, which is team-based. I think it's brought people together more effectively in terms of 'this sergeant is responsible for these seven guys.' That team works together 40 hours or so a week. Previously it was this cascading shift. That was disjointed for the organization."
What programs or efforts started under your watch as a chief?
"I'm just part of the team here and I know the staff looks at me as the chief, but we all have our job to do. My job as the leader in the organization is to recognize everybody's value and celebrate the contributions everyone has to offer. The programs, the initiatives, the concepts, and the ideas come from the men and women that work here. Even the things like the strategic plan, this was a collaboration from the organization.
But I will say, this branding conversation certainly happened on my watch. This is something I really wanted to do. Branding is a promise we make to the community. We say things about what we do and who we are, and then the community experiences who we are. There's a touch point in what we say and what they experience, and that has to be congruent. I'm really excited for this brand identity."
How would you describe the state of the department right now?
"We're in really good shape and we're poised to do some more amazing things. This organization is filled with men and women who are really committed to what they do and they do it well. The police officers and professional staff understand what's important to me and understand the role that we all play in providing safety service. The staff works so hard. I'm proud of the men and women that work here. I think more great things are going to come."
How was Pleasanton's crime rate when you first started with the department?
"Pleasanton has always been blessed with low crime. What we deal with are crimes of opportunity. Our crime types have always been centered on crimes against property, auto theft, theft from auto, auto burglaries -- those types of things. But we're not void of violent crime. Crime has always been enjoyably low in Pleasanton and it fluctuates."
Have you seen an increase in a certain crime since you've been here?
"The first quarter of this year compared to first quarter of 2014, there was a noticeable increase in property crimes. Now noticeable increase in property crimes in Pleasanton is like 50 cases. So if I say there's an 80% increase, that could be 55-56 cases."
Has recruiting been hard, especially with recent law enforcement incidents around the United States?
"It's a challenge. It's hard. One of our biggest challenges right now is finding quality people who have made responsible decisions that are fit and suited to serve this community. The numbers aren't what they used to be, but I don't necessarily attribute it to the perception of what's going on but there's a lot of stuff going on in the world.
It's not an easy time to be a cop. There's a lot of criticism. There's a lot of trust issues, and I don't know if that's affecting the recruitment. Maybe it's a generational thing or a lifestyle thing or whatever ... but it's getting harder and harder to find that really awesome perfect candidate.
I work really hard to make sure we're making good picks, because they're going to be here a lot longer than I am. I want to make sure when that cop knocks on the door of somebody who lives here or pulls somebody over, I want them to understand their role -- not take themself too seriously but recognize how important what we do is and appreciate the uniqueness of Pleasanton."
What are your goals for the future?
"I had the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission come in and do an assessment. We really used this to identify some of our strengths and weaknesses.
We have a lot of good things going for us -- low crime, quick response times ... those types of things. We're also very data-rich when we look at the crimes that occurred and the data we retain. They recommended some very specific things. We launched a strategic plan, which was a very specific and identified goal of mine when I started.
The strategic plan is a product we did ourselves, centered on six initiatives: strengthen communications, promote leadership and development, improve organizational excellence, enhance infrastructure and equipment, enhance quality of life and community safety, and advance technology solutions for efficiency.
As an example, this Open House we're having is part of our strategic plan to do community outreach. I want to open the doors so the community can walk through here and see what it's like in here and learn more about their police department.
The plan also screams out for us to more effectively embrace technology. I've made a very solid commitment to the organization to do just that. We have started a program with high-level analytics on predictive policing. With this mathematical algorithm, it allows patrol staff to go out and focus on where crime should happen today; and if they go to this area, they should, just by being there, prevent that crime.
It takes 10 years worth of our data and it says "This 500x500 ft. box is where, within 98% of accuracy, you'll most likely experience a burglary this morning." It's another tool for our men and women to use to improve quality of life and decrease those opportunities for criminalization.
When we think about should we or should we not do this ... it has to fall within one of those six initiatives."