Former board trustee returns to SRJC as interim police chief

Jerome Janairo, News Editor

Two-time Board of Trustees member Joe Palla has returned to SRJC, this time as the appointed police consultant for the college’s administration and soon as interim chief for the district police. He will preside over a department recovering from the controversial departure of former chief of police Christopher Wilkinson.

“Being that we are going to have to hire a new police chief at some point, we need somebody to be an interim,” said Vice President of Business Services Doug Roberts. He added that searching for a new police chief is a process that takes months. Palla must first complete a background check before he can officially become interim chief, as required by state guidelines.

“What I’m here to do is to work through some of the issues and try to make sure that the department is operating in an efficient and positive way,” Palla said. As the police consultant to Roberts, Palla’s responsibilities include providing oversight to the district police.

Palla was offered the role of police consultant (as well as the position of interim chief) by SRJC President Dr. Robert Agrella following the resignation of Chief Wilkinson. He said he accepted the offer because of “a real love for SRJC” and the police profession.

“He already has background knowledge of the district and the culture here,” Roberts said. “I couldn’t think of anyone else who could do a better job of running things as he could.”

District Police Sgt. Dave Willat agrees about Palla, adding that Palla’s knowledge of the importance of the department’s individual members is valuable.

“Given the circumstances, we’re fortunate that he was available and willing to step in and help us out,” Willat said.

 Palla’s expertise in law enforcement and police administration is based on a career in law enforcement that spans 30 years. During that time, he served as chief of police in Cloverdale, Healdsburg and San Bruno. He also has a history with SRJC: he served as a member of the criminal justice advisory committee for more than 20 years and as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1992 to 1994 and again from 2004 to 2006.

As the police consultant, Palla has been working closely with the district police, tasked with getting the department “back on track” after its experience under Chief Wilkinson’s tenure. He says that police and staff within the department have been very cooperative.

“We’re working to figure out where we want to be in three and six months,” Palla said. “There are a lot of programs and projects that they want to work on and we want to move forward in the months ahead.”

Simplifying and streamlining operating procedures, such as briefings, parking permits and updating equipment are some of the projects the district police are working on with Palla. One critical issue confronting the district police has been the balance of workload between employees in the department, and it is an issue Palla and the department have been working on solving.

“Obviously we’re very thin on our staffing here,” Palla said.

Sgt. Willat says that budgetary constraints mean staffing levels may not end up at the department’s ideal levels.

“However, filling positions that have been vacant for quite some time will get us back to providing services we need to provide,” Willat said. “For example, we’re down in numbers of dispatchers.”

Perhaps the biggest issue for both Palla and the district police is the need to return to a state of normalcy.

“Of course there were some fears and trust issues that were generated from the past that we need to work through,” Palla said. “That won’t happen overnight, I understand that, but I think we’ve made some good progress already.”

Willat believes that a “healing process” had begun within the department.

“The department needs internal stability, and I think this is a great move to creating that [healing process],” Willat said. “I think it’s already happening.”

Palla said that building a team that works well together is one of the biggest goals he want to accomplish with his leadership. The district police, on their part, simply just want to move forward.

“I can’t change what already occurred, but we certainly can go and try to make some improvements,” Palla said. “We just need to move on and put the past behind us and figure out where we’re going in the future.”