After 29 years in law enforcement, including the past nine as the Chief of Police in Atascadero, Jerel Haley is retiring. His last day will be Oct. 16.
As a law enforcement officer, he worked in many roles, such as Street Crimes Detective, SWAT team member, Sexual Assault Investigator, and perhaps the most impactful — Community Services Officer.
During his tenure in Atascadero, Chief Haley engaged with the community, participating in numerous fundraising events and working with many nonprofit organizations. It wasn’t by accident. It was part of his philosophy. It will also be part of his legacy as many of those in the force have also adopted a passion for community involvement.
“The way that I say it is repeated from something I heard a long time ago but the need to make deposits in people’s emotional bank accounts,” Haley told The Atascadero News. “Community involvement is one of the ways to do that; we set about the process of trying to give access to community members to who we are. We call it partnershiping, we want to make a partnership with the community, and the one way to do that is getting involved and getting invested and being active and letting people have access to us.”
Law enforcement and its practices aren’t just a career for Chief Haley. They have been his life. Haley’s father served in law enforcement for 30 years, mostly with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, and set an example for what he wanted to be.
“I have a picture in my office that I drew where I said I wanted to be a policeman when I grew up,” Haley said.
Apart from a few years of teenage angst that always go with a burning desire to separate oneself from family and anything they do, he has always wanted to be a cop.
“As I got older and wised up and looked back on my dad’s life, I thought, ‘that wasn’t bad at all, what he was able to accomplish,’ and I kind of came back around to that dream in my early 20’s. I suppose in some ways I always wanted to be a cop and in other ways wanted to become a cop because of the example I saw my father set in his 30-year career in law enforcement,” Haley explained.
While working for Atascadero, Haley and the Atascadero Police Department took part in such events as Coffee With A Cop, National Night Out, K-9 Wine & Dine Spaghetti Dinner, as well as lots of work with the Special Olympics.
Haley began the annual and popular Special Olympics Basketball Game six years ago when a group of athletes challenged him and two officers to a game while awarding them medals that they didn’t receive at a tournament.
“He has been a strong leader in the Atascadero community, a champion for youth in the community and has been a strength in the North County for Special Olympics,” Jody Watty, Director of Special Olympics SLO County said. “In addition [to basketball], he ran with the torch at the annual Torch Run each year and served hundreds of dinners at the annual Tip A Cop dinners. He and his department helped to raise thousands of dollars for local Special Olympics athletes. To say we will miss Chief Haley will be an understatement.”
APD also worked closely with the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) using the Community Action Team (CAT), which sent officers and mental health professionals out to people facing homelessness as a way to prevent incidents and deter problematic situations proactively. Haley has also served as a board member for Transitions-Mental Health Association for the past eight years.
“It has been an honor to work with Chief Haley during my tenure,” ECHO President Wendy Lewis said. “We worked closely on the topic of homelessness in our community, and Chief Haley always showed compassion for the unhoused and those struggling in Atascadero.”
Now looking back, Haley says that instilling a sense of community involvement is one of his proudest achievements since being appointed.
“We got together as a department and said, ‘Who do we want to be?’ And then you see the men and women of the department start embracing that and moving it forward, that is when you start to realize that this is something that they grasp and desire,” he said.
Sometime after Oct. 16, Chief Haley plans to move to Maui and enjoy the beach life with his wife, Holly. However, just because he is retiring from one job doesn’t mean he will relax.
“I want to start a second career,” Haley said. “I’m still young and have a lot of energy and desire to work and no place better to do that than on an island like Maui. My kids will be kind of spread to the four winds of life, but they will always want to come see us there, hopefully.”