BERKELEY — After four years as top cop in Berkeley, police Chief Douglas Hambleton has announced his retirement, putting Berkeley on the map with at least five other Bay Area police departments that are currently searching for a new chief.
Hambleton, 55, will leave his six-figure job this summer, city officials announced Tuesday.
"For the last 33 years, he has been a great asset to the community, his department, and the city organization as a whole," said City Manager Phil Kamlarz. "We will miss him. The chief has been at the city as long as I have, and it's been a pleasure to work with him."
Hambleton started as a police trainee in 1975 and was hired as a patrol officer in 1976. During the next three decades, he worked many assignments within the department, from the hostage negotiations team to the budget unit. He also spent a year working as assistant to the city manager. He took over as chief in March 2005.
Kamlarz said the city hopes to select a new chief by midsummer. As was the process when Hambleton was hired, Kamlarz said the community, the Police Review Commission and the police unions will be involved in the selection process.
"I believe that this process served us well and am confident that another community-based process will help us find a good fit to lead the department in the coming years," he said.
In opening up the search for a new chief, Berkeley joins Oakland, San Francisco, Palo Alto, UC Berkeley Police, South San Francisco, San Francisco City College and other departments that are searching for a new chief. Many of those retiring this year are baby boomers who have put 30 or 35 years into police work and now want some leisure time, Hambleton said.
Hambleton, who has participated in the department's 216-mile, three-day "turkey ride" to raise money for holiday food baskets, said he plans to keep biking and do some traveling after retirement. "I've done the turkey ride 22 times and I've been doing it so long that last year my son was able to do it with me," he said.
Hambleton said he has been thinking about retiring for a while. "If I had not become chief, I would have retired several years ago," he said.
Though the department, with 185 sworn officers, has had a lot of turnover in the past few years, Hambleton said he is most proud of the promotions he has made among the ranks. In the past four years, he's promoted three captains, nine lieutenants, and 13 of the 31 sergeants, he said. "I feel really good about those people and comfortable with them running the department," he said.
Under his leadership, the department also purchased a multimillion-dollar computer system that will aid with records management, report writing and dispatch, Hambleton said. "It will increase our ability to do crime analysis and manage information. At some point, every police report will be done in car or back at the station on computers," he said.
Though he said it has been a team effort, Hambleton said he is proud that "Part I crimes," which include rapes, homicides, assaults, robbery and property crimes, are down 20 percent compared with 2004, the year before he took over.
He acknowledges that violent crimes are up in Berkeley and elsewhere but said the economy and other factors play into that rise. "Everyone is experiencing increase in robbery and some violent crime because of social factors," he said.
In addition to successes, Hambleton has faced some tough times as chief.
Berkeley had nine homicides last year compared with five the previous year and many remain unsolved.
Also, not long after taking over as chief, former sergeant Cary Kent was found to have tampered with 286 drug evidence envelopes.
Kent was later convicted of the crime, ordered to drug treatment, home detention for a year and five years probation.
In a lengthy report compiled after an 18-month investigation, a Berkeley Police Review Commission subcommittee criticized the department, some officers and Hambleton for failing to notice, report and act in a timely matter when Kent tampered with and stole from drug evidence.