Nicholas is a Siskiyou County local through and through. He was born and raised in McCloud and took law enforcement classes at College of the Siskiyous just after graduating high school in 1975. At that time, COS offered a law enforcement internship through the Weed Police Department so Nicholas began as a reserve officer with the department.

After 44 years with the Weed Police Department, the current longest tenured police chief in California has announced his retirement. Chief Martin Nicholas’s last day with WPD will be Dec. 20 after having served as chief since 1987. In that time, he’s witnessed many changes in the world of policing, both positive and negative.

Nicholas is a Siskiyou County local through and through. He was born and raised in McCloud and took law enforcement classes at College of the Siskiyous just after graduating high school in 1975. At that time, COS offered a law enforcement internship through the Weed Police Department so Nicholas began as a reserve officer with the department.

The internship was made possible through a grant program, so he even received a salary for his work. While COS currently offers a reserve program, Nicholas said he’d love to see the internship grant program he enjoyed happen again.

Nicholas had originally planned to become a school teacher.

But with a minor in public safety and law enforcement and his experience as a reserve officer with WPD, he found he enjoyed that field and enrolled in the police academy at College of the Redwoods for the 1977/78 term and underwent a rigorous 10 week, 400 hour program.

After serving 12 years with Weed PD, Nicholas was hired as the department’s chief in 1987 when he was just 30 years old. He replaced Ray Champagne, who had been hired as an interim replacement for Charlie Byrd after Byrd became California’s first elected black sheriff in 1986.

Asked if it was scary to take on the role of police chief at 30 years old, Nicholas immediately said yes. However, as he had spent a dozen years working alongside Byrd, who was remaining in the county, his nervousness over becoming chief was tempered by the knowledge that he’d still have the support of his longtime colleague.

“Being chief is a big responsibility, but when you have a fallback like Charlie, it helps a lot,” Nicholas said, adding, “Charlie was a good source for me for a long time.”

Nicholas’s mettle was tested shortly after he assumed the position of chief. He recalled that one of the first major calls WPD responded to was a homicide, which came only a few months into his time as the department head. Fortunately, he said, “Everybody knew their job and jumped right in.” The case was closed with an arrest.

Though that homicide was one of the first major incidents he faced as a chief, it was not the first time Nicholas had dealt with death on the job. He mentioned that in the early 80s, when he was still a sergeant, he and his partner were involved in a shooting. The suspect was shot and killed. Nicholas’s partner was also shot but survived thanks to a bulletproof vest.

While naturally not all of his memories from 44 years as a police officer are happy ones, Nicholas said that on the whole it’s been a great career, especially because it allowed him to raise a family. He has two biological children, three stepchildren and 11 grandkids.

While he said in the past he did consider working for a department other than Weed’s, he wanted to keep his kids local, so staying with WPD made sense. He conveyed that the Weed community – both his department and the public combined – have always been like a family to him. One of his goals has been to employ officers who can communicate well with members of the public.

The officers he works with have been one of the highlights of his career, Nicholas said. “We have very sharp people, very good people, and that’s why I feel comfortable leaving now,” he shared.

WPD is “more than capable of carrying on, pursuing the goals of the city and keeping the city safe,” Nicholas noted confidently. One of the struggles of a rural police department is retaining officers long term, because there are many larger departments looking to hire. WPD is fortunate in that it’s “always had officers that are young and willing to work, and that lets us stay on top of crime here,” the chief described.

Many of the other challenges his department has faced have come in recent years, he said, and are largely the same difficulties with which many departments in California must contend. He specifically mentioned California’s Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47. The former diverted people convicted of “less serious felonies” to county jails rather than state prisons. The latter reduced the classification of most nonviolent property and drug crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The changes brought about by the state’s shifting laws have meant huge impacts to communities and have made it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs, Nicholas expressed. “It’s important that people have accountability,” he said, referring to the reduced punishment for many crimes in California. When there’s no punishment, “it turns our businesses into victims,” he posited.

Staying briefed on the changes in state law is a demanding task, Nicholas said. And because he’s the chief, he’s expected to know it all. Periodic officer trainings help in that area though, he said, noting that “there’s nothing more important than seeing that everyone is trained to the level they need to be.”

His faith in the officers he’ll leave behind is clear. A couple of them have worked with Nicholas for over a decade, and he is hopeful that one of them will be his replacement. A press release from Weed PD states that since receiving the notice of Nicholas’s retirement, “the city manager has been working diligently on finding [his] replacement, and is expected to make an appointment in the coming weeks.”

Weed is a community just like any other in that “anything can happen at any time.” Nicholas said that’s something he’s realized over the years after witnessing incidents like officer involved shootings and the Boles Fire in 2014. Asked what it was like to be chief of police during the Boles Fire, Nicholas said simply that it was “a tough time,” but added that the disaster “really pulled this community together.” And that community has been the high point of his career. When asked what the best part of his job is, Nicholas didn’t hesitate to answer, “The people – relationships.”

Nicholas and his wife Diana plan to remain in the area after his departure from WPD. He said they have enjoyed traveling together and will continue to do so, but they have “no specific plans” ... except one. As a San Francisco Giants fan, Nicholas mentioned he’s “looking forward to a March spring training date.”