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February 20, 2007 > An interview with Union City's top cop, Police Chief Greg Stewart

An interview with Union City's top cop, Police Chief Greg Stewart

By Steve Warga

TCV: How long have you been with Union City's Police Department?

Stewart: I've been here 29 years. I can remember when Alvarado-Niles was two lanes and about the only traffic control was a stop sign at Niles and H Street!

I started as a part-time animal control officer in 1975 after realizing that a Mechanical Engineering degree from UC Berkeley wasn't what I really wanted from life! I was also a reserve police officer in Union City and enrolled at Chabot where I played basketball and got an Associate Degree in Administration of Justice.

In 1977, I went to work as an Alameda County deputy sheriff. About a year later, Union City hired me full time and I've been here ever since. After my part-time work here, I knew this was where I wanted to return.

Over the next few years, I completed my bachelors and masters degrees while working as a cop. I guess I finished my education on the installment plan.

TCV: What did you enjoy most during your patrol officer years?

Stewart: I loved Traffic Division work. I was an officer and a supervisor in Traffic, then went on to be an investigator. I liked the challenge of working out what happened and how it happened at accident scenes. You know, figuring out how did this car get up in a tree? That sort of thing!

I'm pleased to be chief now, but I think being a sergeant is about the best job on the force. You're in with the officers, but with some added responsibility. My years as an officer and a sergeant gave me valuable perspective for relating to the rank and file today. I like getting here in the morning and talking with the guys coming in off the night shift. And I drop in on briefings whenever I can.

This is really a great job when you think about it. There are so many opportunities and such a variety of assignments once an officer becomes a veteran of patrol. After they reach what I think of as a journeyman-level patrol officer, they can go into investigations, or community outreach, or any number of different fields. I think it's one of the best jobs ever, personally. I sit at a desk all day; that's what I have to do now, and have done for several years. But that's all right too.

TCV: Did you consciously decide you would like to be the chief at some point in your career?

Stewart: I did. Originally, I was suspicious of the commanders, a typical young guy thinking they didn't really know what police work was all about. But as I matured, I gained a wider perspective and came to see they really do know the job and I decided I wanted to move into supervisory work.

When the opportunity came up for the chief's job, I thought long and hard about it. It's a big responsibility and large time commitment. I also had a lot of long talks with my wife; her support was critical. We finally decided to give it a shot after Randy Ulibarri announced his retirement. I was sworn-in last month (January 24).

TCV: How do you define the chief's job?

Stewart: It has a lot of facets, but I see myself primarily as a facilitator between several groups: the officers and the community; the department and the city council; and between management and the officers association. We're certainly not running a dictatorship here, so it's important to get the association's feedback and try to meet their expectations whenever possible. At times by the very nature of the work, we have to mandate certain things, but we try to work in collaboration as much as we can.

Then there are times when I need to be a sort of 'Uncle Greg' to an officer. That's when I maybe have to sit down and say, 'Okay, what were you thinking here?' And there are also those times when I'm a cheerleader for a job well done.

TCV: What do you see as your biggest challenge today?

Stewart: I'd really like to reinstitute the school resource officer program we had in the middle schools. Due to budget cuts, we had to lose those officers and I think we lost a lot of connection with the youth. We had good, positive contacts there and I think we were a positive influence over some of today's challenges like, gangs, drugs, Internet access and so on. Kids today have it tougher than we did.

TCV: What's the department's greatest strength?

Stewart: Without a doubt, it's the men and women I have working for me here. I said at my swearing-in that I was inheriting a department with no major flaws and I meant that as a tribute to our employees. They're the best, in my opinion.

I also mentioned it's a great advantage to work with such a supportive city council. I think I came in at a perfect moment, like a 'perfect storm' of positive circumstances.

TCV: Would you like to add any closing thoughts?

Stewart: I am looking forward to serving the citizens of Union City. We made great strides under Randy's six years at the helm and I intend to lead to even further progress.

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