UC Berkeley Scrambles to Find New Police Chief

By Rio Bauce, Special to the Planet
Thursday June 04, 2009 - 07:03:00 AM

Since UC Berkeley Police Chief Victoria Harrison announced in early March that she would be leaving the force on July 31 after 19 years of service, administrators have been scurrying to find her replacement. 

Harrison came under fire in July 2007 by the California state Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education for what a Contra Costa Times investigation called “improper perks” that she had received from the university. After she retired in June and received a $2.1 million compensation package in addition to a nearly $5,000 monthly salary for 10 years, Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom hired her back at a salary that with benefits was nearly $200,000 a year. The university maintained that it followed all procedures and that misinformation occurred as a result of the media’s sloppy reporting, while the media maintain that Harrison received an unfair compensation package. 

Among the top choices to replace her are UC Berkeley Assistant Police Chief Mitch Celaya and Oakland Deputy Police Chief Dave Kozicki. UC Spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university hopes the position will be filled before Harrison leaves. 

Both candidates face a good deal of public scrutiny. 

Oakland Police Department officials are conducting an internal investigation into Kozicki’s actions in the March 21 shooting of two Oakland police officers and two SWAT team members. 

While Celaya is not the subject of an internal investigation, he is receiving heat from one man. Former tree-sitter and autistic activist Nathan Pitts, who alleges that he was defamed by Celaya, is waging a one-man campaign against the assistant police chief through writing letters to the Daily Planet and elsewhere. 

“We’re looking for a consummate law enforcement professional who has the skills, experience and character traits required to successfully lead a public university police force,” said Mogulof, who said the university posted an advertisement for the position in early April. “We’re looking for someone to provide high-quality, professional crime prevention, protection, and law enforcement services to maintain and promote human safety and the security of property for the Berkeley campus and its associated locations; and thrive in an environment that values individual rights, diversity and tolerance.” 

Celaya, who has worked at the university since 1982, said he has enjoyed his time at UC Berkeley. 

“I have worked as a patrol officer, a patrol sergeant, a patrol captain. I served as a detective for many years. I actually took part in the first task force on drunkeness between the university and the city. In addition, I worked on police coordination for special events with student groups,” he said. 

Celaya says that robberies and other street crimes are his top priority. 

Kozicki enters his 29th year at  

the Oakland Police Department (OPD). Before assuming the title of deputy police chief, Kozicki worked as a patrol officer, an investigator in the homicide and sexual assault departments, a lieutenant officer, and a police captain. He now serves as deputy chief of the largest of the three bureaus for the field bureau operations department. 

“I think that the current chief has done a great job and has set out a clear mission for the department there,” said Kozicki. “All of the members of the department that I have met have been great. There are always opportunities to improve. My primary focus would be on robberies, since recent studies have shown that these incidents are on the rise around campus. I would concentrate on educating new students to not become victims of crime, improving environmental design with lighting and cameras, and through increased collaboration with the Berkeley Police Department.” 



Due to an alleged miscommunication about the location of gunman Lovelle Mixon, who had already shot two motorcycle officers, Oakland police entered a building where Mixon shot two SWAT team members. An ongoing investigation hinges on the truthfulness of the statements from Kozicki and other officers about communication regarding Mixon’s location. 

Kozicki and his lawyer, Michael Rains, were not available for comment by press time. 

In November 2007, during the tree-sitting protests at the university, Celaya made a statement to the press that Pitts had thrown an unidentified liquid at four police officers, which resulted in the hospitalization of the officers. Officers subsequently arrested Pitts on charges of battery, resisting arrest, and violating a court order. However, Pitts says that the charges against him were dropped, which he charges displays Celaya’s dishonesty. 

“Mitch Celaya should never be police chief,” said Pitts. “Mitch Celaya’s claims didn’t stand up in court, but my life has been torn apart by his lies. The UC would only be validating a calculated pattern of abuse towards a disabled person.” 

Celaya, who was serving as the UC Police Department’s press information officer at the time, said that he was simply responding to a press inquiry and had no other part in the case. 

“Mr. Pitts is referring to a press inquiry that I got where I shared what happened in the police report,” said Celaya. “He participated in a march at the grove, and officers were trying to apprehend some tree-sitters. Officers reported that Pitts was one of the individuals that were throwing liquids. He was arrested for that. I was not there. I was just sharing a press inquiry about the arrest.” 

Mogulof said that any person who would ever be considered for the position of police chief faces public criticism and scrutiny. 

“They are both exceptional law enforcement officers,” Mogulof said. “What is clear is that anyone who rises to a certain level of administration is under public scrutiny. Nobody is going to get to this stage without getting reviewed by the entire community.” 

In response to the criticism about compensation of Harrison and other UC officials, California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation to require greater transparency on compensation actions at the University of California system and the California State University system. 

“The Legislature and the governor have now sent a very clear message to the UC and CSU: it is time to end the culture of secrecy and arrogance,” said Yee, in a statement. “No longer should the students, faculty and staff—the backbone of our public universities—be left to bear the burden, while top execs live high on the hog.” Yee received his B.A. from UC Berkeley and his M.A. from San Francisco State University. 

In the end, Harrison hopes that her replacement shares her values of community service. 

“After all these years, I hope that the kind of person who works for the police department shares my values and my philosophy: that we are part of the university community, and that we are dedicated to public service,” said Harrison. “Being a police officer ought to be about wanting to make a difference.”