Chief Mike Sellers—Santa Clara’s top cop for seven years and California’s only elected police chief—ended four decades in law enforcement last week with a heartfelt sendoff.
Assistant Chief Dan Winters, Seller’s preferred successor, and the chief’s son, Santa Clara firefighter Matt Sellers, spoke about the lawman’s legacy before the man of the hour delivered a grandiose speech about hard work, family, public service and so on.
Sunday marked Sellers’ first day in 37 years as a civilian; today marks the City Council’s first discussion about whether to replace him by appointment or special election.
Sellers’ exit comes about 16 months before the end of his term and on the heels of a somewhat tumultuous final few years.
The career cop began as a volunteer cadet in 1978 before going on to become a reserve officer in 1982 and joining the ranks full time in 1985. Sellers worked his way through the ranks to assistant chief in January 2012, the same year he ran unopposed for police chief.
Re-election was a different story. In 2016, Sellers won a second term by an uncomfortably thin margin against Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association leader Pat Nikolai, under whom the union gave the chief a vote of “no confidence.”
In 2017, Santa Clara shelled out $8.7 million in legal settlements over the PD’s use of force—the bulk of it, $6.7 million, paid out to a single plaintiff, a woman injured in the course of an unwarranted police search.
In addition to locking horns with the rank-and-file, Sellers has openly criticized Mayor Lisa Gillmor over the cost of providing security at Levi’s Stadium. Sellers insists, however, that he’s retiring for personal reasons—to spend time with family, escape the grind of a 60-hour work week—and not because of bad blood with fellow city leaders.