The quintessential campus cop
Thirty-two years with UCPD lent retiring police captain Bill Foley a unique perspective on Berkeley history

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


Captain Foley

Three decades of campus policing came to an end when Capt. Foley retired in June.
Noah Berger photo

15 August 2002 | As a kid, Bill Foley dreamed of becoming a cop — drawn by the flashing lights, wailing sirens, dark uniform, and shiny gun. The fascination grew during his teenage years when, while towing cars for the California Highway Patrol, he observed officers investigating accident scenes.

In 1969, his wish finally came true. As a fresh-faced 21-year-old, he was hired and trained by the UC Police Department. But the job wasn’t quite what he expected.

“When I started, the campus was in total upheaval with anti-war and People’s Park riots,” Foley wryly recalls. “As I was getting pelted with rocks and stones during these demonstrations, I wondered if this was the right career move for me.”

Apparently it was — Foley spent the next 32 years here, shepherding the campus through some of its most challenging and rewarding times. This long and distinguished career came to an end this summer when Foley retired from the force.

Over the years, Captain Foley won hundreds of friends across the university with his easy-going personality, quick wit, and ready smile.

“I’d stroll across the campus with Bill and he’d be greeted by custodians, grounds keepers, construction workers, administrative assistants, faculty, and senior administrators,” says friend Maureen Morley, executive director of the Academic Senate. “He’s able to bring people together, building bridges at all levels of the organization.”

His style of policing — calm, creative, respectful — turned out to be a perfect fit for the university’s peculiar culture.

“Berkeley exposes you to so much, you have to keep your mind open,” says Foley. “Your views change and your beliefs are tested. It’s not only rewarding — it makes you a stronger individual.”

Certainly, UC Berkeley police officers are confronted with things few other law-enforcement agencies face, and it takes a special kind of cop to handle these situations.

For example, when students took over the Boalt Hall dean’s office in the late 1980s — protesting the lack of minority representation at the law school — Foley used a unusual negotiating tool.

“They ordered a pizza, and when it arrived I wouldn’t let it through,” he recalls. “I told them they could have the pizza if they promised to leave once they were done eating.”

Foley’s chief thought he was crazy. But when the pizza was polished off, the students made their statement and calmly vacated the premises. The risky ploy had paid off.

Foley also excelled at dealing with the strange cast of characters that populates Sproul Plaza.

There was Naked Guy, a student who refused to wear clothes; Rick Starr, an off-key crooner with a passion for Frank Sinatra tunes; Larry the Drummer, who beat out a woeful rendition of the “Batman” theme song on a daily basis; and a bizarre performance artist known as Polka-Dot Man, just to name a few.

“We’d get calls about strange behavior taking place on Sproul Plaza,” Foley chuckles. “But when we responded, it was often tough to figure out exactly which incident the dispatcher was talking about.”

On a more serious note, Foley’s career was marked by his involvement in a number of high-profile incidents — including anti-apartheid, affirmative action, and ethnic studies demonstrations — and disturbing crimes.

The Unabomber, a former Berkeley math instructor, struck the campus twice in 1984 and 1985, hand-delivering bombs and injuring professors here. One student was killed during a 1990 hostage siege at nearby Durant Hotel. In 1992, Rosebud Denovo was shot after breaking into University House wielding a machete. Grace Asuncion, a student working in Eshleman Hall, was murdered that same year; her killer was never apprehended.

Perhaps Foley’s most difficult crisis was a deadly fraternity fire in 1990. After a day of anxious waiting, three bodies were discovered; it was Foley who had to break the terrible news to family members on the scene.

Though part of numerous news-making events, it was the small cases that Foley often found most rewarding.

“To see the look of appreciation on someone’s face when you return their stolen wallet, bicycle, or computer disc was very gratifying,” he says. “It’s the kind of thing that never makes it into the newspaper, but it’s what kept me coming back to work every day.”

Like so many other new retirees, Foley jumped into several activities after leaving Berkeley, including golfing, bicycling, and flying lessons. He was unable to get policing out of his system, though, and after a few weeks off he began work as the chief of the department of public safety at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, where he’ll command a force of 18 officers.

“My retirement lasted only 52 days,” Foley shrugs. “But I’m really looking forward to the new challenges ahead.”


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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