Hail to the chief

The top cop, Mike Maloney, reflects on 32 years in law enforcement leading up to an early retirement

Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney has occupied this corner office for a little more than two years. He’ll be emptying it in April, when he retires on his 50th birthday.

Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney has occupied this corner office for a little more than two years. He’ll be emptying it in April, when he retires on his 50th birthday.

Photo By Meredith J. Graham

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When Mike Maloney started working at the Chico Police Department, he was barely able to drink legally. Now, almost 30 years later, after 2 1/2 years in the chief’s chair, he’s ready to turn in his badge.

If you do your math right, that puts Maloney at … 50 years old. (He’ll actually turn 50 in April, when he has announced he’ll retire.) Considering his relatively young age and the fact that his father, Robert Maloney, is 70 years old and serves as district attorney in Glenn County, some might consider his retirement a bit premature.

“My father is 70—he’s in his 47th year in law enforcement,” the younger Maloney said during a recent interview in his spacious office. “I certainly have no intention of retiring and just going home to sit on my ass.”

Instead, Maloney has plans to continue teaching at Butte College’s Law Enforcement Academy—he’s already offered to take on an additional class—and pursue, quite simply, other things.

“I don’t know anything different,” he said, noting that he started at the Willows Police Department two weeks out of school and has held a steady law-enforcement job ever since. “So, initially, I’ll be seeking to know something different.”

At 50 years old, those possibilities are plentiful. But he’ll leave quite a void in the Chico PD, where he was much anticipated as chief in 2009 when Bruce Hagerty (who served six years) retired. The way the system is set up, however, gives little incentive for him to stay on and continue to contribute his expertise and knowledge of the community and the department. As he put it quite candidly: “I’ll be maxed out in the system as far as earning for retirement.”

The way CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) works at Chico PD is, in order to receive 90 percent of your highest pay upon retirement, you must work at least 30 years toward that goal and be at least 50 years old. Since Maloney has worked nearly 32 years, when he turns 50 on April 20, he’ll have reached the point at which he can no longer add to his retirement. He’ll then receive 90 percent of his highest salary (he is currently earning $158,115.36 a year).

Not a bad incentive to quit.

“I think Mike’s a little unusual in that he started his career very early,” said Dave Burkland, city manager and Maloney’s boss. Burkland said he’d never thought of the retirement plan as a possible disincentive. He added that safety employees—police and fire—are able to retire at 50, but other city employees have to wait until they are 60.

Part of the reason Maloney announced his retirement more than five months before the fact was to give the city time to find a replacement and not have to default to an interim chief during the hiring process. Maloney actually served as interim chief three times—first before Hagerty was hired, in 2003, then while Hagerty was out on medical leave in 2007, and again when he left, in 2009.

“I hope to be able to actively offer input during the hiring process,” Maloney said. Ultimately, however, it will be up to Burkland to do the hiring. The city manager said he’s already working on all the materials and outlining how wide a net to cast—probably they’ll look throughout the Western United States, he said.

“Whoever sits in this chair, they should have a high degree of investment in this community or history with this department,” Maloney said. “I had both. I’m proud of my longevity with the department.”

“Mike’s done a whole lot in three years,” Burkland said. “He’s always been very energetic. He’s been tireless in his efforts to improve police service to the community. He’ll be missed. His experience in the department is pretty much unparalleled. We’ve been lucky to have him.”

That experience and effort put into bettering the department yielded some tangible results. Among Maloney’s goals upon taking the job were to create better communication between the department and the public; and to work on neighborhood problems that the police often couldn’t respond to. He did both, by creating the Chico Police Community Advisory Board, which meets monthly, and the TARGET team, which investigates neighborhood issues.

“There’s always more I would like to be able to do,” Maloney said. “I’m not unconditionally pleased with all I’ve had my hand in. But there are a number of things I’m proud of—including the fact that I’ve helped navigate this department through these difficult times.”

He joked that, while he didn’t eat, sleep and dream the job during the 32 years he’s worn a badge, the past three years it’s been pretty much a constant. The police scanner, he said, was on 24-7, including in his bedroom at night.

“It’s not unusual for me to awaken to a distressed caller in the middle of the night,” he said. “One of the first things I’m going to do is disengage from that.”

And he’ll likely continue to be a presence in the community, putting his extensive experience to good use beyond that of his current role. He’s not averse to seeking elected office sometime in the future, he said (though he’s not going to jump in right away).

“You always hear about people who are ‘irreplaceable.’ Everybody is replaceable,” Maloney said. “It’s emotional for me to think about not being here, but I feel like I have made an impact—and I hope to continue to make an impact in this community.”