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Why California Highway Patrol chief is headed for a much smaller department

California Highway Commissioner Joe Farrow will step down from one of the most high profile jobs in law enforcement to become police chief of UC Davis, university officials announced Tuesday.

At the CHP, Farrow leads a department with a $2.5 billion budget and about 11,000 employees. He is a sought after as a speaker and sits on numerous national and statewide public safety committees.

His new job will be on a smaller scale. At UC Davis, Farrow will lead a staff of 80 full-time employees, including 55 sworn officers, who work at the main campus and at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He also will have 50 student employees, according to a press release from UC Davis.

Farrow, 61, will earn $215,000 as the UC Davis police chief when he takes the position on Aug. 21, compared to the $245,000 he earns as CHP commissioner.

Farrow said he took the job to get back to his roots and to focus on community-oriented policing, much as he did when he was a police officer at his first job in Pacific Grove.

“That was very attractive to me,” he said.

Farrow said the UC Davis job was the first he ever applied for in his time at his nearly four decades at the CHP, although there have been offers.

UC Davis drew Farrow’s interest after he took part in a leadership conference there recently. He said the visit left him energized. “(I thought) if I ever leave, that is the place I want to work.

“I have so much energy,” he added. “I think I have something to offer.”

Farrow will be eligible to collect his CHP pension while earning a paycheck from UC Davis.

The chief’s pension from the California Public Employee’s Retirement System will equal 90 percent of his final salary when he leaves the department, CalPERS officials told The Bee last month. If that pension is added to his new salary, he will earn roughly $435,000 annually. Because the university has a separate retirement system, Farrow would be eligible for additional state retirement benefits after five years.

“I devoted 37 years with the CHP and I worked hard,” he said. “I could have retired 11 years ago.”

Farrow replaces former Police Chief Matt Carmichael, who left in August to become police chief at the University of Oregon.

During the vetting process at UC Davis, Farrow met with university police officers, students and faculty. Farrow said one of the most asked questions was about how he would deal with campus protests.

The university made international headlines in the fall of 2011 when one of its officers shot pepper spray into the faces of students – some of them seated with arms locked – protesting fee hikes. Video of the incident went viral on the Internet, there was public outrage and demands for the resignation of the chancellor. Eventually, the lieutenant who shot the pepper spray at students was fired.

Farrow said the police department’s job is to allow people to express their opinions openly when ensuring safety. It’s a balancing act he has a lot of practice at during the 10 years he has led the CHP, which is entrusted with ensuring the safety of all state buildings, including the state Capitol, where protests take place every day – sometimes several at one time.

“It is our job to manage that,” Farrow said. “For the most part, it’s been very successful.”

He acknowledges that there have been missteps. Last summer a rally by a group of neo-Nazi demonstrators at the state Capitol erupted into a violent clash with ‘anti-fascist’ protesters that left at least 14 people injured – five of them stabbed – and closed down streets.

“The two sides came for the sole purpose of disruption,” Farrow said.

Scores of law enforcement officers were on hand. Both the CHP and Sacramento Police Department were criticized for not stopping the melee as it was beginning. Farrow said there were an insufficient number of officers there to bring the situation under control.

Farrow said a university police department should be run differently than the California Highway Patrol.

“I’m not bringing the CHP to Davis,” he said. “It’s a different organization. I will just bring the skills I’ve learned. I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Farrow was appointed to the top CHP job by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008 and then reappointed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “Leaving is hard.”

In recent years, Farrow sought to increase training on mental health conditions for officers and attempt to rebuild ties with ethnic communities after a 2014 video circulated showing a white officer striking a black grandmother. During his tenure, the CHP also created an Officer of the Inspector that conducts internal audits, reviews and inspections of the department.

He says he’s proud of these efforts, as well as the CHP’s status as the largest organization in the country to be fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

“The California Association of Highway Patrolmen has enjoyed a very positive working relationship with Commissioner Joe Farrow,” said Doug Villars, president of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen. “It has been one rooted in trust and a desire to find solutions, even in moments of labor disagreement.

“The men and women of the UC Davis Police Department will soon learn that they are fortunate to have gained a leader with 37 years of law enforcement experience, including more than 10 years heading one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the world,” he said. “Commissioner Farrow will be a tremendous asset to the UC Davis Police Department, and we wish him nothing but the best in the next chapter of his career.”

Until the UC Davis opportunity came along, Farrow intended to continue working as CHP commissioner until Brown left office.

“Working for Gov. Jerry Brown has been my honor,” he said. “It was inspiring to work for him.”

The state plans to appoint an interim commissioner from within the CHP after Farrow’s resignation. Brown then would appoint Farrow’s successor, said Melissa Figueroa, spokeswoman for the California State Transportation Agency.

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

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