Faces of Berkeley: Mitch Celaya, UCPD chief

With retirement looming, campus police chief reflects on highs and lows of UC Berkeley tenure

UC Berkeley Police Chief Mitch Celaya announced that he will be retiring at the end of this year.
Amabelle Ocampo/Staff
UC Berkeley Police Chief Mitch Celaya announced that he will be retiring at the end of this year.

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Stacks of paperwork pile high behind the chief’s desk after another day of meetings. He will accumulate more papers before the day ends, but for a brief respite, he sits in his Sproul Hall office and answers email.

Being UCPD chief is not an easy job, and since assuming the position in 2009, Mitch Celaya has managed some of UC Berkeley’s most controversial disputes — from the Wheeler Hall occupation in 2009 to last year’s November Days of Action. But effective Dec. 31, Celaya will retire from his post and thus end a 30-year career with the campus police.

Though not boastful, Celaya’s upper shelf displays various achievements and awards that he has been given during his time in the department.

Despite the accolades, many students and community members have criticized the department’s actions — and Celaya’s direct leadership — by alleging that the police force has repeatedly harassed and brutalized students during campus protests.

“My job is to provide direction, to provide expectation, philosophy of the department and, most importantly, to provide resource, skills and training for my people to do what they need to do,” Celaya said.

Celaya first joined the force as an officer in 1982 after living most of his life in a small town in Northern California.
“Coming to Berkeley was a significant cultural shock,” Celaya said. “I arrested the Naked Man; got involved with demonstrations, from people in trees to barricading buildings.”

Protests were more organized when he first began working for the department, Celaya said. There was usually a leader that made arrangements with the police for potential consequences of protesting.

But since he took responsibility three years ago, Celaya said, the department has had difficulty because of the “leaderless” development of protests. Without a “point person,” Celaya said it has become more difficult to disseminate information to protesters about the consequences they may face.

Still, campus members and protesters harbor criticism toward the captain for what they claim is continued police action against activists.

“I think the moment of truth of his entire career came on Nov. 9,” said Navid Shaghaghi, a UC Berkeley alumnus and campus activist. “He basically allowed his officers to brutalize students … we really can’t trust the campus police.”

Last year, Nov. 9 became marked in Berkeley’s history when a protest against fee hikes lead toUCPD police officers using batons on protesters, resulting in widespread criticism and a subsequent re-evaluation of police conduct on UC campuses.

Campus activist Honest Chung, who ran for ASUC president last spring on a platform that included police accountability, said the problem is greater than the chief.

“I’m glad he is gone, but the reality is — whoever is going to replace him — not much is probably going to change,” Chung said.
Aside from protests, Celaya admits he has had difficulty reaching one of his main goals: reducing violent street crime in areas surrounding campus. Numbers have shown an increase in the last year, following decreases in previous years. Celaya attributes this to a lack of resources and staffing levels.

“Up until this year, we’ve had a downward trend in violent crime,” Celaya said. “There has been a spike in the south campus.”
For Celaya, retirement from the campus department does not mean retirement from police work. In January, he is expected to begin as police chief for the Calistoga Police Department in Napa Valley.

The new police department will give him the opportunity to develop community plans in a population that is not constantly in flux, like that of UC Berkeley, he said.

“I’d much rather leave looking for the door than being shown the door,” Celaya said jokingly.

Chloe Hunt covers crime. Contact her at .

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  • ArwenUndomniel

    He is responsible for the beating of Cal Students and other Occupy demonstrators in the October 9th protest on campus, the killing of Dude, one of our dogs in People’s Park (one of his officers shot our dog) and the shining of lights in the eyes of 19-year-old Jasmine, our tree occupier, whose back was broken in the fall of 2012. His officers went to the hospital where Jasmine lay in pain and harassed her for information on the other two boys in the tree. Celaya is a criminal and an ass hole! He has no conscience! Good riddance! Hope he burns in hell and karma visits him and his police officers very soon!

  • Guest of the Grove

    Mitch the Bitch is a disgusting POS…PS he looks good in prison Orange, that’s the color that criminal hiding behind a badge, deserves!

  • gc57

    Mitch Celaya is a class act. He “worked” his way thru the ranks, earning his pay at each level. I was fortunate to have worked with him at three of those levels. Mitch was a great cop before becoming an administrator, and that’s not a slam, it simply means that he did the job long enough to have earned his promotions. When it went from working with Mitch to working for him as he rose through the ranks, he never made me feel like he had forgotten what it’s like to do one of the most thankless jobs on earth. He always seemed to recall that he had also been there. Calistoga is fortunate. Good luck Mitch!

    • Gastro Cramps

      No Mitch was a classless thug. No act, he was the real P.O.S!

    • ArwenUndomniel

      No. Celaya is responsible for the beating of Cal Students and other Occupy demonstrators in the October 9th protest on campus, the killing of one of our dogs, Dude, in People’s Park (one of his officers shot our dog) and the shining of lights in the eyes of 19-year-old Jasmine, our tree occupier, whose back was broken in the fall of 2012. His officers went to the hospital and harassed Jasmine as she lay in pain with a broken back.The man is a criminal! He has no conscience! Good riddance! Hope he and his officers burn in hell and karma visits him and his officers very soon to kick them in the ass!

  • Guest

    Campus activist Honest Chung, who ran for ASUC president last spring
    on a platform that included police accountability, said the problem is
    greater than the chief.

    This fifth-year super senior idiot would have graduated on time had he not wasted time on bullshit like this:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/18/local/la-me-0719-uc-regents-20120719

    Among them was Honest Chung, a UC Berkeley history major, who had
    patches of fake blood painted on his face and said he wanted to portray
    one of the “walking dead” that he said many students had become.

    http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Occupy-Cal-protesters-vote-to-strike-on-Tuesday-2323696.php

    On Thursday, Honest Chung, 21, a history major, was still wearing a wristband from Alta Bates hospital,
    where he was treated for bruises to his forearms and midsection. Chung
    said his older sister called after seeing video footage of officers
    using batons, and he assured her not to worry.

    “I convinced her I
    was OK and I understood her concern,” he said. “But it was kind of left
    unsaid that it was probably best if my parents didn’t know about it.”

    How did this idiot get accepted into Cal? History majors have no excuse not to graduate in four years.

  • Guest

    Did Celaya ever attend college?

    • Guest

      No but he beat a few PHDs!

  • I_h8_disqus

    During 30 years of service, something that he should have learned was to keep the batons in the belt unless they were needed. He worked during the anti-apartheid protests in the 80’s, which from the looks of it were much larger and much more intense. The lessons from those protests should have guided him during last year’s protests.

  • tehth

    so as this article (and celaya himself) suggests, celaya was an immense failure. good riddance

  • alum

    The face of inaction and failure to “serve & protect”.

  • SierraOscar1

    Disappointing article. A bit more bio and a bit less of the usual tired old crap about protestors and their grievances would have been appreciated. Mitch Celaya has been an outstanding police officer and leader. Anyone with 30 years in his position could have probably given the DC some pretty unique insights into the campus and its history. Heads occasionally roll in any large organization, but were it not for Mitch, those heads would have belonged to Chancellor Tien and his wife. Chief Celaya has led his troops through hundreds of major incidents. It would have been nice to hear about more of them from his perspective.

    • Bill Franklin

      Well said SierraOscar1. Chief Celaya and the UCPD continue to serve and protect the safety and rights of the hundreds of thousands that are the greater campus community. A few fringe folks who claim otherwise are the same folks who run afoul of the law and our society’s sense of basic civility, and are the same folks from whom thankfully the Chief and his agency protect us.

  • Mitch Cebolla

    And i hope that door shuts nicely behind you