Christopher Rosacker

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September 29, 2013
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Wickham's last day as Nevada City police chief

Today marks the last official day of Nevada City’s current police chief, and to say that the year and a half since Jim Wickham was hired has seen some change is an understatement.

Since coming board as chief, Wickham has spear-headed a handful or policies and projects that addressed topics as far ranging as parking and smoking to homelessness and, most recently, sharing resources with Grass Valley’s police department.

“The reality is, I really enjoyed it,” Wickham told The Union. “It’s been a great town to work for. I loved the residents and having an influence on the future of a city.”

While Wickham was lauded for many of his policies, his time in Nevada City was cut short.

With the town’s budget still bruised from the economic recession, Wickham was hired in March 2012 as a part-timer who had retired after 37 years with the Mill Valley police department. Although Nevada City Manager David Brennan has said that staffing key municipal positions was a tactic Nevada City had used to save millions of dollars in avoided salaries and pension contributions, the police chief position was one the leaders had long contended would be restored to a full-time position once tax revenues rebounded.

In November 2012, residents approved a 3/8-cent sales tax to prop of city services for five years. One the key expenditures of those funds was to bring on a full-time police chief — something Wickham has said he was not interested in jeopardizing his Mill Valley benefits to pursue. However, he was not expected to leave until at least March 2014, when added revenues would be sufficient enough to hire a full-time replacement.

But the California Public Employees’ Retirement System was not interested in Nevada City’s plans, nor its finances, Brennan has said.

CalPERS mandated that Wickham, technically classified as a interim police chief, could not be employed on such as basis unless the city actively held a recruitment process to staff the position long-term.

Subsequently, CalPERS gave Wickham an Oct. 1 deadline to vacate his position by early October or retroactively pay six months worth of benefits to the tune of about $100,000, according to Brennan. If Wickham remained past the Oct. 1 deadline, the city would also have to retroactively pay about $50,000, Brennan said.

Former Truckee Police Chief Scott Berry, who retired from Truckee in 2008, will begin as Nevada City’s next interim police chief effective Tuesday, the day after Wickham’s last official day.

“This town is in a lot better position than it was before me,” Wickham said. “There area some good policies on the table that they can continue if they want, and I’ve opened the door for new programs, too, that could be built on.”

Wickham’s proudest moment, he said, was hiring Officer Shane Franssen as the dedicated downtown foot patrolman. Prior to Wickham’s hiring, businesses and residents had long complained about the issue of vagrancy in the downtown historic district, and one of those complaints was a lack of a visible police presence.

In addition to mandating that officers get out of their cars and walk the streets, Wickham brought on Franssen. While the policy was popular, Wickham’s pride stems from surprising Franssen — who had been part time — at the holiday party with an elaborate ceremony to swear him in full time.

“He works so hard for the city, and everyone loves him,” Wickham said.

Wickham also implemented a no-smoking ordinance that has reduced smoking, not just of tobacco, downtown. He also played a role in getting all of Nevada County’s law enforcement agencies to consolidate their dispatch services — a move that saved Truckee and Grass Valley hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But perhaps what Wickham will most be remembered for are two policies: the homeless-curbing camping ordinance and increased cooperation with Grass Valley police.

In December, Nevada City’s council adopted Wickham’s proposal for an ordinance to govern camping on public property within the city’s borders. Thought titled a no-camping ordinance, Wickham referred to the program as a homeless approval program because if a “camper” can demonstrate responsible land-use practices, such as taking care of refuse and sanitation, and not bother neighbors, and if the camper isn’t afoul of the legal system, he or she can be permitted to remain.

The no-camping ordinance garnered media attention from Sacramento’s television stations to newspaper blogs as far away as Washington D.C.

Wickham’s other legacy will likely be opening the door for Grass Valley police to patrol Nevada City streets for a few late-night, low-incident hours, alleviating the Nevada City police department from staffing a “grave yard” position.

Instead, Wickham allocated that position as a cooperative detective to investigate crimes for both departments.

“I forced the issue because I knew my time was running out,” Wickham said. “I knew that a Nevada City officer and a Grass Valley officer could work together to provide better service for the residents.”

The cooperative policing arrangement is in the front half of six-month trial period that was not without controversy. Getting the Nevada City council on board took two separate meetings, followed by a somewhat contentious one-month review in August.

“I was hoping to develop more shared resources with Grass Valley,” Wickham said, referencing plans to share records and evidence rooms.

“The reality is when it comes to public safety, decisions can’t be made on what people want versus what is best for the city,” Wickham also said.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, the cooperative police report was included in the city council’s consent agenda — a group of matters needing approval that are usually adopted as a whole because they do not necessitate debate. However, Wickham was warned that the police report might be pulled for debate, so he attended that most recent meeting.

With Wickham in the council audience, Mayor Sally Harris confessed that she had threatened to discuss the item as a ploy to lure the outgoing police chief to the meeting so he could be thanked for his time serving the city. The entire council applauded Wickham, who smiled, waved and left the city to its business.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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The Union Updated Sep 30, 2013 02:34AM Published Sep 30, 2013 08:42PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.