After 17 years with the Berkeley Police Department, Capt. Erik Upson has been selected to run police services in Benicia beginning later this month.
Upson announced the move internally Monday, and the city of Benicia followed up with an official statement Tuesday. He is set to begin his new job as Benicia’s police chief April 20.
“He is everybody’s ideal cop,” said former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, who has worked closely with Upson on the Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee, a community umbrella group for neighborhood watch-type efforts.
Dean said she always knew Upson to be a good listener, who would take community concerns to heart, and had the persistency to move issues forward: “Benicia is lucky to have him,” Dean said.
Benicia City Manager Brad Kilger, in a prepared statement, described the search for his city’s new police chief as extensive: “Erik clearly rose to the top of the class. The City of Benicia is very fortunate to hire someone … who not only has exceptional technical skills and leadership qualities, but is also highly praised by all those who have worked for him and with him.”
Upson grew up in Washington state, and went on to serve in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. He received his bachelor’s from the University of California at Berkeley, and his master’s from California State University in Long Beach.
Over the years, Upson has worked in many assignments in Berkeley — including traffic enforcement, the Special Response Team and as an area coordinator. He has served as the Operations Division captain, overseeing all of the department’s patrol forces, for the past four years. It’s one of the top positions in the department, and one that answers directly to the chief.
Officers in the department are quick to praise Upson for his leadership skills and his approach to policing.
“He has kind of a global view of things, not just from the police operations side,” said Lt. Andrew Rateaver, one of the Berkeley Police Department’s four watch commanders. “He takes into account, to a very great extent, how police operations affect ‘Community,’ with a capital ‘C’: Not just the city of Berkeley, but all the different subgroups, the special interests, and how it would affect other communities.… And that’s kind of rare, to have an overall view like that.”
While serving as captain, Upson oversaw a variety of projects, from the recent beat realignment, and the establishment of a new traffic substation, to changes in shift structure, a program to address the problem of false alarms, and the creation of the department’s Honor Guard.
Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said Upson, with all of his efforts, has left the department a better place.
“Erik been an invaluable member of the Berkeley Police Department’s command staff,” Meehan said Tuesday. “It is difficult to lose a friend and advisor but this has been a career goal of his and he is ready to accept the challenges that will face him.”
In his approach to his work, Upson has prioritized a rigorous approach to training, said the chief, as a state-certified Master Instructor of peace officer standards. Upson recently attended a week-long Crisis Intervention Team training, as well, “to show support for that program,” Meehan said. And he’s been known to work on his days off so others can get needed time off.
Meehan said he will be selecting an interim captain in the next few weeks, and plans to begin testing for the permanent position in June. Meehan also said he looks forward to collaborating with Upson in his new role.
Upson said Tuesday that he feels honored to have been chosen for the chief position in Benicia, which he described as “a great community.” He said he has already felt warmly welcomed by Benicia city staffers, and the community members he has met.
It’s too soon, he said, to have any particular concrete plans for the new post, other than to begin the work of getting to know the community and the Benicia Police Department, which has about 35 officers.
After 17 years, however, the transition has been “bittersweet,” Upson said.
“It’s very difficult to leave. I love this city. I love this department,” he said. “I’m going to miss this, but it’s the next step in my journey, and I’m really excited about it.”
Upson said what he’ll miss most about Berkeley is the people, of both the city and the department.
“There are so many characters, and so many wonderful people here,” he said.
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