Christopher Rosacker

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January 21, 2014
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Nevada City's new police chief getting an early start

There’s a new police chief in Nevada City, who has already begun patrolling its streets in the weeks leading up to his officially taking the reins in February.

Not only has retired San Francisco Police Lt. Tim Foley been regularly visiting Nevada City since the city announced his hire in December, but he’s been coming to the area for nearly three decades.

When Foley began his policing in San Francisco in the late 1970s, he did so paired with one of the department’s earliest female officers: Anna Adams, who later married Paul Ong and moved to the Grass Valley area.

“In the late ’70s, women were just pushing their way into the police department as well as other traditionally male-dominated professions,” Foley recalled.

“There was some outward hostility toward women, as well as some very subtle discriminations and harassment that was going on. Some things you couldn’t put your finger on, but you knew it occurred.”

The pair went through the academy together, training and were eventually assigned as partners — which was only the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

“That was an interesting dynamic not only within the department with some of the officers not embracing women coming in, but people on the street weren’t always ready to deal with it either,” Foley said.

After a back injury, Adams left the police force and moved to Grass Valley with her husband in 1988.

“I would come up and visit her and her husband,” Foley said. “She started throwing around the idea that if the chief at that time ever left, that I should come up here and work as the chief of Nevada City. Over time, that seed was in my head the whole time.”

Anna Ong passed away in August 2012 after a long and painful battle with spinal and lung cancer, according to an obituary in The Union.

“I still stayed in touch with her husband and come up here a couple times to help him do some things, and then the (chief position) opening came up,” Foley said.

“The rest is history.”

Since his December 2010 retirement, Foley has kept busy. Despite a post-retirement knee surgery, Foley is an avid runner and has competed in a half marathon once a month for more than four years, he said. He has also taught leadership, management and supervision skills with a small consulting group working through Police Officers Standards and Training.

“(Policing) always stays in your blood, in your system,” Foley said. “It kind of ebbed and flowed … Seeing the scenes, being involved in the excitement, the activity is something you miss. Making contact with good people in the community, trying to make things better, those are things (I missed).”

Foley is amid a six-week transition with interim Police Chief Scott Berry, a retired Truckee police chief, who took on the part-time job following the exit of Jim Wickham at the beginning of October.

Wickham, a retiree from the Mill Valley Police Department who had planned to work for Nevada City in a part-time capacity until the city’s tax revenues could fund a full-time police chief, left the position earlier than he had expected. The state’s employee pension program pushed Wickham out as it cracked down on the cost-saving practice of staffing part-time retirees in municipal positions.

“Due to budgetary constraints during the deep recession, we have had three part-time police chiefs over the last several years,” said Mayor Sally Harris. “This was a necessary decision.”

But as the economy improved, Nevada City residents approved a 3/8-cent sales tax hike (Measure L) in November 2012 to prop up city services for five years.

“With the improving economy and the help of our residents voting overwhelmingly for Measure L, we are now well positioned to come out of the financial decline with sufficient resources to provide the services our community wants and deserves,” Harris said. “A full-time police chief who may be with us for some years will be able to establish the positive, trusting relationships that help a community to work together to solve problems and ever improve.”

The new chief brings with him more than 33 years of law enforcement experience. Prior to his 2010 retirement from SFPD, Foley worked as an acting commander at several district stations and served as the officer in charge of the department’s professional development section, according to Nevada City Manager David Brennan.

“The crimes that occur are pretty cut and dried,” Foley said. “If someone commits a crime, you arrest them. That’s real clear, but there are numerous other issues that are more social service in nature and that might be better served with (other kinds) of things. My sense has always been that trying to arrest your way out of a situation is not necessarily the prudent and most effective way to deal with some issues.”

In announcing Foley as the new chief in December, Brennan noted Foley’s experience in community-based outreach efforts related to homelessness, mental illness, neighborhood-level community policing programs and supported youth development, as well as his experience planning and managing large city events in San Francisco, including the Millennium Celebration at Union Square and an NBC All-Star Party.

“I’d like to be open and accessible to the community,” Foley said. “The power of a community is huge and a police department is not the last stop for solving problems. It is one cog in a wheel. Without the community involvement, a lot of things won’t progress as quickly or improve as quickly as I think people would like, or as quickly as I would like.”

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

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The Union Updated Jan 22, 2014 12:18PM Published Feb 7, 2014 10:50AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.