By the time Jeff Nicks turned in his badge and retired on Feb. 9, he had been protecting the public for more than 30 years. He’d worked his way up to the ranks of Police Lieutenant and Fire Battalion Chief for the Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety before calling it a career.
“I loved working for the City of Rohnert Park,” he said. “Along the way, I met and worked with some of the most incredible and talented people. This community is like no other. They embraced me like I embraced them. In my career, I would have sacrificed my life for the members of my law enforcement and fire service families as well as the citizens I served.”
Raised in Seal Beach, Jeff moved to Rohnert Park in 1986 to attend Sonoma State University. At the time, his goal was to turn his passion for baseball into a teaching and coaching career.
He met the gal who would be his wife, Kimberly, and tried his hand at the insurance game, working for his father-in-law, Art Hollingsworth, at Farmers Insurance.
“It just wasn’t for me,” Jeff said of the cold calls involved in insurance sales.
Instead, another influence played a pivotal role.
“John Gilson was my first roommate when I moved to Rohnert Park from Southern California,” Jeff recalled. “John and I played baseball at Sonoma State together and he introduced law enforcement to me when he worked for the City of Petaluma. Today, John is still one of my dearest friends.”
Jeff took a “ride-along” with Petaluma Police and he knew, “It was exactly what I wanted to do.”
He got one of his first tastes for contributing to the community by volunteering for the Squires of San Quentin Program, which he describes as being similar to the “scared straight” interventions used around the country to deter kids from a life of crime.
Some kids, Jeff says, “are not making the greatest decisions in life,” so meeting sentenced criminals face-to-face in a place like San Quentin was expected to help steer them in the right direction.
Jeff rounded out his resume by being a volunteer firefighter for a couple of years in San Rafael and working with Sonoma State University’s police department for five years. In 1999, he signed on at Rohnert Park.
As a longtime local, he’s seen the city grow. He said there were just about 24,000 residents in 1986, so Rohnert Park has doubled in size. “The M Section didn’t even exist,” he said. “Things have evolved big time. But it’s still such a great place to live. I’ve been very, very fortunate and blessed to have the support from the community.”
The job evolved along with the community, Jeff said. “When I first started, all we had was a police radio and a notepad with a pen or pencil,” he recalled. “We’d make our way through town and memorize the streets.”
While GPS and map applications have made getting around town a bit easier, Jeff said the main thing is sustaining a solid relationship with those he’s sworn to protect.
Through more modern approaches to the job, Jeff said shotguns were replaced by less lethal weapons and the SAFE Team now works with some residents who are more in need of mental health assistance than a police officer. He also said the department takes de-escalation training.
Other technologies, such as body cameras and dash cameras are in use, but he says it’s really all about his comrades and commanders. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best people on the face of the earth,” he said.
“I had several mentors and colleagues who were very influential in my career — John Garretson, Jim LaTorre, Dave Welch, John Gilson, Kelly Koffler, and Pat Fahy,” he said. “The person who was with me from the beginning professionally and never left my side throughout my career was Aaron Johnson (currently RPDPS Deputy Chief). Aaron and I became the best of friends.”
He freely quotes a slogan that was also used during his retirement ceremony: “Be better in the moment.”
Jeff and Kimberly raised five children locally — Courtney, Nolan, Haley, Cooper, and Camden. “All grown and married,” he says.
“My faith and my family were always and will always be the most important things in my life,” Jeff said. “Both are what defines me. I've been truly blessed to be surrounded by those friends and family who love me unconditionally.”
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