Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers will retire before term ends

Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers will retire on Sept. 1, more than a year before his term ends in December 2020, Sellers told San José Spotlight on Tuesday.

Sellers has been Santa Clara’s elected police chief for the past seven years, but he’s worked full-time for the city’s police department for more than three decades, starting as a cadet in 1978, and becoming a full-time police officer in 1985. The announcement this week, first sent to police department employees Monday night, was not an early resignation due to any particular issues, but the announcement of a “well deserved retirement,” for Sellers, Santa Clara Police Department Spokesperson Wahid Kazem said Tuesday morning.

In recent years, Sellers has butted heads with Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and others over issues primarily around security funding for Levi’s Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers play home games. But he said Tuesday that “there’s no smoking gun” in his decision to retire early.

“Friends of mine have told me that you will know when it is time [to retire] and they are right,” he said. “I’m not being forced out or none of that about any kind of controversy; it is just time.”

Sellers was elected after running unopposed to be the city’s police chief in 2012, but won again in 2016 despite Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor backing another candidate, Sgt. Pat Nikolai amid concerns around security, policing costs and billing at Levi’s Stadium.

Notably, Sellers in 2017 pushed back forcefully on what he implied was a biased audit report and misleading statements claiming unauthorized city funds were being used for security during San Francisco 49ers games.

“Our city has been subjected to a level of hatred and nastiness that has never been seen before. It is being compounded by your lack of leadership, honesty and transparency,” he told Mayor Gillmor in a 2017 speech on the matter. “This unnecessary burden is affecting the fine men and women that serve this great city.”

Despite that tumultuous history, Sellers said in an interview Tuesday that his decision to retire was based purely on his personal needs.

“I’m sure people are not aware, but I work many 60-hour work weeks and have to be available 24/7,” he said. “That takes a toll on your personal life and your self.”

During his career with the Santa Clara Police Department, Sellers has implemented new technology and processes, including the Computer Aided Dispatch system, reduced response times for callers as overall violent crime statistics and high-priority calls declined in the city, according to a release by the department Tuesday.

He said he is most proud of his recruitment and advancement efforts of “only the best employees,” for the police force.

In retirement, Sellers said he plans to focus on his health, spend time with his family, travel and will continue to volunteer with the Santa Clara Rotary, Mission City Community Fund, Santa Clara Optimist Club and the Employer’s School Council.

Gillmor did not immediately respond to a call for comment on the news Tuesday. City Manager Deanna Santana told San José Spotlight in a statement that “as City Manager, it is inappropriate for me to comment on an elected official who has resigned his office before his term expires, but I do wish him the best.”

In an email to the Santa Clara Police Department, Sellers said he was confident his Assistant Chief, Dan Winter, and the department’s captains “are fully prepared to lead the department into the future.”

Santa Clara’s City Council will ultimately have the authority to fill the position, or opt not to fill the position until the 2020 election, he said.

“It is my understanding, if a consensus is not reached, then my position will officially remain vacant and the Assistant Chief will lead the department until the November 2020 election,” Sellers wrote in the email to his team that he forwarded to San José Spotlight Tuesday.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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