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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Police chief's retirement and rehire 'meticulously' followed UC policies, Brostrom tells panel

– In an effort to clarify the facts and correct what he said was misinformation related to the retirement and re-hiring of UC Berkeley Police Chief Victoria Harrison last summer, Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom traveled to Sacramento last week to address the state Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education.

"Chief Harrison did not receive any special treatment in either her retirement package or in her compensation at rehire," Brostrom told the subcommittee during its May 6 meeting. "Some media stories have been categorically wrong and very misleading. Throughout all evaluations of this decision and discussions, UC policies were carefully and meticulously consulted, followed and implemented."

Brostrom also told the subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, that Harrison had been unfairly vilified in news accounts of her rehiring and in some of the comments that followed, adding that her 34 years of service to the University of California have been exemplary.

Harrison retired as associate vice chancellor for public safety and chief of police on June 30, 2007. After consulting with benefits staff at the Berkeley campus and the Office of the President to ensure that policies were followed, Brostrom asked Harrison to remain in her position for up to three years. In his offer letter to her he wrote, "due to the need to effect a smooth transition of current to future UCPD management, the key role you play as a contributor to President Dynes' Campus Security Task Force, and of your substantial and unique expertise, I have a need to retain your services on the Berkeley campus for up to three years."

In addition to her base pay of $175,000 (with a merit increase to come in October 2007), Harrison was asked to work with the vice chancellor on special projects as assigned, including work on financial matters for intercollegiate athletics. The offer letter included a stipend of $12,700 for the extra responsibilities.

In addressing the Senate committee, Brostrom raised a number of points that he believed had not been appropriately reported in the media, specifically, "that her retirement benefits are covered under a special category for public safety officers that is different than for other UC employees. That was not made clear by some of the news media and may have caused confusion." The UC retirement plan for safety officers is similar to that provided to law enforcement officers across California. Those plans accelerate accrual of retirement benefits compared to what most UC and state employees receive.

These are the points Brostrom raised with the subcommittee:

  • Chief Harrison rightfully earned all of the retirement benefits she received, he said.
    • She elected to take a $2.1 million lump-sum payment which she earned during the last 34 years, under the UC retirement policies for safety officers.
    • In taking her accrued payout, she gave up retiree medical, dental and legal benefits, as well as survivor benefits and a one-time death benefit.
    • She was rehired at the same pay as she earned before she retired.
    • Because Harrison had earned the maximum retirement benefit, her income would have been the same whether she was working or not. In fact, she had worked in this situation for 19 months leading up to her retirement.
    • Her total compensation is significantly below that of police chiefs in comparable municipalities or at private universities between 10 percent and 33 percent lower than nearby municipalities.
  • Official UC policy does not limit the amount of time a rehired employee may work, although it does offer guidelines that suggest that retirees work no more than 46 percent of the time. However, in this case, it was imperative that UC Berkeley have a full-time police chief, he said.
  • The normal retirement age in California for public safety officers is 50. It is common in California for senior police officials, whose retirement is similar to that offered UC safety officers, to retire at 90 percent to 100 percent of their pay and work again as full-time chiefs. In the UC system, he said, four of the other nine chiefs are receiving their retirement benefits from California municipalities and are working full-time for UC campuses.
  • The sole exception to policy, which was approved under UC procedures, was the carry-forward of unused sick leave. "This reinstatement reflects the fact that Chief Harrison forfeited a number of benefits that she would have received under a monthly pension. Chief Harrison will forfeit unused sick leave when she leaves campus service," he said.
In making the case for rehiring Harrison, Brostrom told the senators, "In the past two years we have faced significant challenges on campus that required both experience and continuity in our police chief."

He cited the ongoing situation of the campus tree-sitters who have been illegally occupying trees outside of Memorial Stadium for 18 months, an increase in threats and harassment of researchers by extremists seeking to shut down animal research on campus, and shooting incidents at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University that have increased the role of campus police in preparing for and responding to such tragic incidents.

Brostrom concluded his testimony by saying, "I faced a difficult choice. The choice came down to losing nearly 20 years of leadership of this very critical function on our campus, or enter into discussions with Chief Harrison to explore how to retain this person who could provide continuity and stability to the department while we face some very significant challenges. I felt that retaining her was critical and was the most important factor in serving the public interests."