Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel ended his 33-year career with the agency Friday and handed the reins over to his interim successor, Dan Schiele.
Before heading into retirement, the 53-year-old Braziel sat down with The Bee to discuss his five-year tenure as chief. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
What emotions are you feeling as you prepare to depart?
Very, very mixed. Thirty-three years doing the same thing it's all I know. I've had a job at least one job since I was 16 years old So, I haven't planned a career, or the next career, in 34 years.
What I'll miss is the strategy there's been so much strategy involved in the last five years because of budget cuts. How do you cut a budget? How do you keep morale high? There's so much strategy in that. That's the part that'll really be missed. In hindsight, it was a great opportunity I don't want to say it was fun, because laying off people isn't fun. But there's a cerebral component that doesn't exist when you've got money.
(I have) a lot of good memories I wouldn't trade it. (It's been a) major part of my life.
What accomplishments during your tenure as chief are you most proud of?
One is being able to walk away knowing there's a tremendous leadership team that's here. Gone are the old days of somebody's favorite (getting) promoted. We're back to a very methodical system that's fair. Some people may not like the outcome, but they can't complain it's not fair.
(Another) is how the organization stayed together despite all the cuts and reductions. The team was able to keep everybody together.
The last piece is really taking a government organization and trying to implement private-sector strategies. I kept asking myself, what would the private sector do in this scenario? How would a CEO of a Fortune 500 company handle a crisis like this?
How were you able to make such drastic cuts during your leadership without greater impact on the community?
(In an off-site meeting, command staff set three goals: Reduce serious crime; invest in employees and provide great customer service.) So everything we did when we started to look at cutting is, does it have a direct impact on one of those (goals)? Does it support it, or does it have nothing to do with that? I had two absolutes, though: If we don't pick up the 911 line in a timely matter and we don't get to somebody when they need us and they're calling for help, then we've really failed as an organization. So (I said) we're not going to cut patrol and we're not going to cut the 911 center.
You have a lot of pride in your agency. What do you think makes the Sacramento Police Department stand out?
(Jim Bueermann, former Redlands police chief and president of the Police Foundation) paid I think the biggest compliment that had ever been paid by anyone at an executive level. He said, "You know, Rick, I've been in a lot of police departments before and I've been in your department several times. I've got to tell you, there is no organization that has such a sense of family feeling when you walk in the door as the Sacramento Police Department. There's no agency like it . It really is a sense of family." I think that's what really held us together during budget cuts and keeps the relationship between the union and leadership strong.
What will be the biggest challenge for your successor?
Managing expectations with the budget. Measure U went through, (but) it's not a lot of money. It's $20 million to $24 million, depending on the estimates. If all the money went to the Police Department, we wouldn't even cover half of all our losses. We've lost well over $40 million.
There's going to be huge expectations that crime's going to go away because we voted a tax in. The organization is solid and the leadership is solid, but how do you manage that?
What advice do you have for the next chief?
Constantly make sure you are true to whatever the goals of the organization are. Don't try to expand, don't add 10 or 15 goals because then you water it down. Keep asking yourself, "Why do we exist as a police department in Sacramento? What's our main focus?" and then stick true to that. Because there's a lot of pressure to do things outside of our expertise. And cops like to help people it's a cliché but it's true and it's hard to say "no."