Police Chief Dash Butler has unofficially made it known around the department that he intends to retire by August pending the city’s adoption of a new retirement plan.
“When you put all you’ve got into the job, your body lets you know when it’s time,” Butler said. “I feel good about leaving now.”
Butler, 51, who has spent 30 years with Berkeley’s police department including 11 years as chief, has not made an official retirement announcement, but said he will if the City Council adopts a new state-approved retirement policy. The new policy will allow police officers to retire at 50 years old and receive 3 percent of their pay for every year they have been employed.
Butler was at the helm of the department during some turbulent events in Berkeley. Among them were a hostage standoff in 1990 in which 31-year-old Mirdad Dashdi killed a UC Berkeley student and took 33 hostages at Henry’s Bar in the Durant Hotel, the 1997 policy fight over police use of pepper spray and the 1999 KPFA demonstrations.
Butler said he was most proud of improving the relationship between the department, city government and the community. “Now we have a sound relationship and that’s because we always try to do the right thing.”
City officials said they had heard rumors about Butler’s pending retirement. All agreed to be a police chief in a politically active city like Berkeley is a tough job.
“To survive for 11 years is quite an accomplishment,” said Acting City Manager Weldon Rucker. “The Berkeley Police Department has been under heavy scrutiny for the last 35 years and if you look at some of his predecessors you’ll see they didn’t last so long.”
Butler, who’s manner is unassuming and quiet, would only say that he would never have been so successful if it weren’t for the quality of the police department employees.
Mayor Shirley Dean said she is very sorry to hear Butler may be leaving. “He has always been very sensitive on issues regarding youth,” she said. “You just don’t expect that from a police chief these days.”
Dean said Berkeley is a tough place to be a police chief and it won’t be easy to replace him.
Councilmember Polly Armstrong said Butler’s biggest success has been keeping illicit drugs to a minimum in Berkeley. She said people don’t think of drugs as a problem in Berkeley and that’s largely due to Chief Butler’s efforts. “His biggest priority has been to keep drugs out of Berkeley and out of the hands of young people,” Armstrong said. “If you look at other cities in the East Bay, they have not been as successful.”
When Butler, who spent two years on the drug task force, talks about illegal drugs his normally relaxed, quiet tone becomes direct. “Violence and drugs are inextricably, inextricably tied together,” Butler said. “Drugs are the most traceable reason for street corner violence.”
Again Butler would take little credit for any success Berkeley has had fighting against drug dealers, who Butler described as predatory. He said the patrol officers, the drug task force and the homicide department have worked together to do an incredible job.
Butler has had his share of conflict with the Berkeley Police Association over policy issues and disagreements about promotions. BPA President Sgt. Randy Files said although he’s clashed with Butler, the chief was always willing to discuss differences. “When there’s been problems in the past we’ve always been able to keep working towards a common goal which was to create the best working environment possible,” Files said. “I wish him the best in his retirement.”
Though he has had plenty of offers, Butler has never worked for any other police department. “I’ve only ever wanted to be a Berkeley police officer,” he said.
Butler, who was born and raised in San Francisco, said his successful career with the department may all be owed to a traffic ticket. Butler was 19 years old and attending UC Berkeley when he was pulled over in his “hotrod blue VW bug” by officer Jerry Templeman. (Butler is vague about what the offense was.)
“I had seen policing done in different ways, and Jerry was a straight shooter who was compassionate,” he said. “I thought about it and decided I wanted to make a positive change and I wanted to make it in Berkeley.”
Butler said the most immediate task facing a the new chief will be finding qualified people to work in the department. He said the department may soon be facing a staff shortage and the competition for qualified recruits is tough.
Butler has not said what exactly he will do after he retires but he is interested in computers and has done some writing. Whatever he does he said he feels good about his work in Berkeley.
“There were a lot of things I said I was going to do in 1990 and I got most of them done,” he said. “I feel like I’m leaving a good legacy.”