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Sonoma police chief steps into post-career role

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The next time you see Bret Sackett he may not be wearing a uniform and a gold badge: Today is his last day on duty as Sonoma Police Chief. He’s retiring after 28 years with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, and 11 years in the top spot of the Valley’s law enforcement.

“I have my health and sanity and my faith in humanity, and I want to be sure to keep all that,” he said. Sitting at a round table in his office, where several issues of the no-longer needed Police Chief Magazine are neatly displayed, his smile is nonstop. “It’s been a blessing and a privilege,” Sackett, 50, said about his many years of service. It was his long-term plan to retire this year. Sonoma County Sheriff’s Lt. Orlando Rodriguez has been named as the new chief.

Sackett and his wife of 28 years, Andrea, have a son and a daughter in college and a 16-year-old daughter at home, so his new life will not resemble the golf-and-gardening routine of some who punch out at 65 and older. Understandably protecting his privacy, he said he has “a couple of opportunities” for a new career that are “somewhat connected to law enforcement in one way or another.”

“How lucky to have an opportunity for a Chapter Two, and then maybe a Chapter Three,” he said, adding that he hopes his next choices won’t be quite as demanding as being chief. He’ll be spending some time at Lake Tahoe with his family and then he starts on his new path. “I’m going to miss this town,” he said. “Sonoma is a great place to work.”

He will still be back once a week, though, maintaining his commitment with the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance. He and Bob Smith, Sonoma’s city prosecutor, have mentored six boys as a group since they were in sixth grade. In September the boys will be sophomores at Sonoma Valley High School, and Sackett and Smith will still be standing beside them, shooting hoops, playing ping-pong and leading by example.

Sackett will also continue on the board of Sweetwater Spectrum in Sonoma, which provides a housing solution for adults with autism. “It’s a model near and dear to my heart,” he said. Explaining that as police chief he had to be judicious about what he choose to be involved in, “but kids and those with special needs are very important to me.”

A longtime Santa Rosa resident, he said leaving the Valley at the end of the day (or sometimes after a long night) and driving the 20 miles to his home allowed him the opportunity to sometimes enjoy life as a private citizen, even if he was always on call.

Sackett’s interest in law enforcement started as a kid when his Uncle Bill, a Los Angeles police officer, would visit. “He would tell us stories and show us his badge and handcuffs. I was always drawn to it. I also always wanted to help others.” He earned a degree in administration justice and a doctorate in business management at Sonoma State University.

Being police chief was the highlight of his career, although his ten years on the sheriff’s SWAT team were also challenging. “I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done in the City of Sonoma, and am honored to have been chief and had the opportunity to work with such fine men and woman of this profession. Not many people have the opportunity to do what we do.”

While Sackett has mostly good memories and a sense of accomplishment as he looks back on his career, there are two events that he remembers with sadness. Those are the 1995 murder in Santa Rosa of on-duty sheriff’s deputy Frank Trejo, with whom Sackett had served beat patrol when he was young, and the shooting last May of Sonoma deputy Mike Matelli by an employee of a car wash. Matelli made a complete recovery.

Last year’s October fires are as unforgettable for the chief as they are for so many others. He worked 21 days straight alongside other first responders, including some 24-hour days, helping to save the Valley and support those who lost their homes. “I was never before involved in an emergency operation as large as the fires, and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Sackett said he believes that this community trusts its law enforcement and are willing to work with the police. “People feel comfortable reporting crimes and being part of the process.”

One of the main things he’s looking forward to in the next phase of his life is spending more time with his wife Andrea. Although she also works fulltime, his having a more normal routine and less pressure will enhance their lives. “She’s been with me through thick and thin and has always been so supportive,” he said.

There are many more weekends off, normal dinner hours and time to enjoy each other’s company coming up in the days and years ahead.