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Hercules police chief coming home to Benicia

  • May 31, 2011

Hercules police Chief Fred Deltorchio is retiring June 30, “and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

When he finally comes home to Benicia to stay, he’ll have a full schedule — one he says will include very little, if any, political activity.

“I already do a few things in Benicia,” he said. He’s a Little League umpire whose involvement in other sports ranges from coaching to participating.

He also is a small claims court judge and is a member of Benicia’s Civil Service Commission.

A graduate of John F. Kennedy University School of Law and a member of the California State Bar, in addition to having attended the FBI Academy, he also has a Lifetime Community College teaching credential.

Serving on the Civil Service Commission is the closest thing to political activity Deltorchio expects to do once he retires as chief and his other position in Hercules, interim city manager — despite encouragement from some Benicians.

In fact he has a quick answer for those who want to put his name on the November ballot: “No. And you can quote me on that! I don’t see the need to run,” he said.

In fact, he said, he’d like to be one of those people who do more good “as foot soldiers rather than go before TV.”

Deltorchio, 54, has had opportunities to be in front of the cameras while his city has endured recent political upheavals. Mayor Ed Balico quit in January, and two other Hercules council members became targets of a recall.

That city’s former manager, Nelson Oliva, went on medical leave last October, but his interim successor, Charlie Long, was fired two months later. Oliva returned to the job until Jan. 9, when Deltorchio was named to the post.

After six months in the job, Deltorchio has decided, “I’m not interested in politics.”

Deltorchio grew up in Contra Costa County. He said he’d always wanted to become a police officer. He entered the Air Force after high school to become a law enforcement specialist, and after his service he went to college seeking a criminal justice degree.

But Deltorchio soon discovered “I was not entertained by that,” and switched his major to history, getting his degree from California State University, East Bay in Hayward.

Sheepskin in hand, the new grad began his quest for a job.

“I looked in the want ads under ‘H,’’ he said, but he didn’t find a lot of work for historians.

“That rekindled my affinity for law enforcement,” he said.

Benicia Police Department was one of three area agencies seeking new employees that year, 1982. “I filled out an application, and put on my one suit,” he said. He got hired.

During the next 18 years, he was instrumental in founding and commanding Benicia’s SWAT team. He supervised the narcotics unit and trained other officers. He became a recipient of the Benicia Medal of Valor.

He worked his way up to sergeant until May 2000, when he left for Hercules. “I saw a department that was growing and facing a lot of challenges that were similar to what Benicia faced when I was there,” he said.

When he was offered the job as division commander, he found the decision to leave Benicia a tough one. He’d enjoyed working in the community in which he lived.

“But change is good,” he said.

When he arrived in Hercules, not only was Deltorchio in a new position — having switched from working in the field to a management post — he also was new to the department and unknown to some of his colleagues.

“If you promote from within, your reputation follows you,” he said. “When a new person goes into management, the organization doesn’t know your experience.

“I’d show people I knew how to do their job.”

Rather than talk about past accomplishments, he said, “It speaks louder if you do your job.”

In Hercules, he created two school resource officer positions and helped acquire two dual-purpose motorcycles so patrol officers could reach places inaccessible to police cars. He established his department’s Citizens Police Academy and Every 15 Minute programs and worked to make other improvements in the department.

From a law enforcement perspective, Hercules is surrounded by high-crime areas, easily accessible to those traveling on Interstate 80 from Vallejo, Richmond, San Francisco and other areas: “On the front lines,” Deltorchio said.

In contrast, there is a cushion between Benicia and some of those high-crime places, he said. A bridge separates the city from Martinez; neighborhoods and hills buffer Benicia from Vallejo. “Geographically, Benicia is better situated,” he said.

In Hercules, a young group of managers “recognized the need to handle and retain people committed to enforcement and prevention,” Deltorchio said.

And when Deltorchio became police chief in June 2003, he wanted to do the same thing. “All it takes is hiring one or two great people, then people want to be part of that culture.”

He said hiring officers he called “some of the most dedicated, awesome people” has been his greatest accomplishment. But it also made it difficult to retire.

“The hardest part is leaving the greatest people I’ve worked with,” he said.

His department is made up of people willing to help each other in any circumstance. “If you move, everyone helps you move,” he said. In an emergency, if an officer needs extra leave time, co-workers donate their own time, he said.

Deltorchio leaves a smaller department “and it’s shrinking by the minute. We were 30, now 26, and I feel it will be smaller between now and June 30.”

That’s because Hercules is facing a $3 million shortfall in its budget.

Deltorchio is ready to return home to a city that has smaller financial worries. He’s also ready to spend more time with his wife, Mariessa, and their son, Joseph, a freshman at Benicia High School. Their daughter, Danielle, will graduate in June from the University of California-Santa Cruz.

“I have plenty of things to keep me busy,” he said.

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