Los Gatos police chief resigned in advance of firing, union says
The corner of North Santa Cruz Avenue and Main Street in Los Gatos. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Los Gatos’ former police chief Peter Decena was ousted by the town manager amid efforts to hire more 911 dispatchers, says the president of the town’s police union.

Peter Decena, former police chief of Los Gatos. Photo courtesy of Los Gatos.

“I can tell you what he told me personally to tell the press… He resigned in lieu of being fired by the town manager,” Bryan Paul, president of the Los Gatos Police Officers’ Association, told San José Spotlight.

Decena, who served as the town’s police chief for three-and-a-half years, submitted his resignation earlier this month according to a Sept. 3 city statement. It did not mention the reason for his resignation, but Decena was out of the office by Sept. 8.

Prior to his time as Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police chief, Decena was the top cop at San Jose State University for eight years. He also served 28 years with the San Jose Police Department and retired as a captain.

Decena declined to comment through Paul.

His abrupt resignation has stirred questions among residents and political observers.

“I have no idea why he resigned,” Lee Fagot, founder of Los Gatos Democracy Tent, told San José Spotlight. “He is eligible to retire, but I have no info on the circumstances.”

Town Manager Laurel Prevetti said Decena was a “great team player,” but declined to speak on the reason for his departure.

“People resign all the time,” Prevetti told San José Spotlight. “I don’t know if I would characterize this as a surprise.”

Prevetti didn’t respond to follow-up questions about why Decena might have been fired.

Mayor Marico Sayoc referred questions about Decena to Prevetti. Sayoc didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry about the alleged firing.

According to the police union, Decena’s resignation came as the union sounded an alarm on a dispatcher shortage in town. Prevetti said the dispatcher shortage “had nothing to do” with the former chief’s resignation.

“It seems like the town manager is putting all the blame at (Decena’s) feet and firing him to (put) distance between herself and her responsibilities as town manager,” Paul said.

Los Gatos has budgeted for eight dispatchers to take emergencies calls from the town’s approximate 30,000 residents. But after four workers either resigned or retired within the past year, the town has dragged its feet on filling those positions, Paul said. The 24-hour emergency dispatch center is now running on a skeleton crew of three people who often work 12-hour shifts.

The Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department employs roughly 37 sworn police officers. Paul said the town pays its dispatchers less than neighboring cities, and sometimes they can’t even take bathroom breaks during their shifts.

“Our dispatchers go to the bathroom with their headsets on,” he said. “They don’t get a lunch break… They don’t get to breathe until the end of their shift.”

Tensions reached a boiling point when Paul brought up the dispatcher shortage at a council meeting on Sept. 7. When Mayor Sayoc attempted to cut the microphone after his three-minute speaking time, many in the audience became rowdy, demanding the council to let Paul finish. Sayoc shut down the meeting and kicked the public out of the chamber. The council reconvened an hour later.

While the town remains mum on the departure of its police chief, Paul said many officers have expressed concern to the union.

“The town manager fired our leader during a time of crisis, and left us with two poor captains (who) are now struggling to meet her expectations during this crisis,” Paul said.

Los Gatos named Captain Clint Tada as interim chief, who will serve for two to three months. Captain Jamie Field will then take over as interim chief for another few months while the town searches for a permanent replacement, Prevetti said.

“We’ll be getting that recruitment going here very quickly,” she said. “I intend to create an opportunity for the public to come forward with their ideas about what they would like to see in a new police chief.”

Paul said the town’s lack of transparency is only hurting Los Gatos and its employees.

“I’ve been here 21 years, I’ve won the Medal of Valor… I’ve got countless life-saving awards, I’ve been a detective, I’ve worked the biggest cases in this department and I’m not allowed to know why you fired my chief,” Paul said. “I’m permanently injured, giving my dedication to this department, yet the leadership in this town feels like, ‘No, we don’t need to tell these guys what’s going on.'”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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