It came as a shock to everyone when Sgt. Chris Stines abruptly resigned from the Berkeley (CA) Police Department last week to start a new job in the private sector. In addition to running the police union for six years, the 20-year veteran was a valued member of BPD’s elite Special Response Team and a 13-year sergeant whose leadership skills and experience had won him deep respect and trust throughout the agency.
His departure was the latest in a wave of exits over the past two years as longtime Berkeley police officers have left the agency in record numbers. Some retired or changed careers, while others walked away from close friends and generous benefits to start anew in many cases, with lower pay and no seniority at other law enforcement agencies. The mass migration has shaken the faith of some who remain — and left them questioning BPD’s prospects for the future.
What has driven the exodus? Berkeleyside conducted in-depth interviews with more than a dozen officers who left for other agencies or retired in recent years, and spoke with officers who are still at BPD, to learn about the pressures inside and outside the department. Berkeleyside granted anonymity to officers who said they were concerned talking to the media might impact their work. Law enforcement agencies have strict rules about who can speak to the press, and no one wanted to be seen to flout those regulations.
Many officers say BPD is a very different place today than it once was. Those who left did so for a variety of reasons, but themes that emerged included the lack of political and community support; inadequate staffing, with days off denied and forced overtime; heavy caseloads for investigators; shrinking chances for special assignments; and sinking morale. Many who are still at BPD have expressed similar grievances.