There’s a saying California police Capt. Erik Upson has heard often during his law enforcement career.
“If you can work in Berkeley, you can work anywhere.”
Now, after more than 17 years as a police officer in the diverse college town, the Richland native will test that theory as he leaves to take over the Benicia Police Department.
Upson was publicly named the new chief of the department, which has 34 officers and 20 employees, on April 8. His first day is scheduled for April 20.
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Benicia is a town of about 30,000 people almost 40 miles northeast of San Francisco.
He says his time spent in Berkeley, home to the University of California-Berkeley, has prepared him to lead his new department into the future.
“Berkeley is challenging. You see so much there, and the people demand a lot form their police there,” said Upson by phone from California. “You also get a wide variety of experiences from the crime you see.”
Upson is a 1990 graduate of Richland High School. He played football and ran track for the Bombers before entering the Army straight out of high school, he said. He spent eight years in the service, a majority of which was in the Army National Guard.
Upson went to junior college and eventually made his way to UC Berkeley, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He also earned his master’s degree from California State University, Long Beach.
He worked for a time as a security guard in San Francisco, he said. There, he would report to and interact with a police sergeant, something he credits with helping inspire him to join law enforcement.
After deciding being a police officer was the career he wanted, Upson applied to work at the Berkeley Police Department.
“I was very fortunate to be hired,” he said. “At the time, it was challenging breaking into a career of law enforcement. It was a good fit.”
During his tenure with the department, Upson worked in many capacities while rising through the ranks to captain.
He was a patrolman, traffic cop, bicycle unit sergeant, and worked on special units like the SWAT team and Drug Task Force squad, he said. As a commander, Upson also oversaw patrol squads and the traffic bureau.
“Erik (has) been an invaluable member of the Berkeley Police Department’s command staff,” Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told Berkeleyside, a news website in the city.
Upson focuses his approach to policing on developing strong relationships with community members and engaging with everyone while patrolling neighborhoods, he said.
His vision for an ideal beat cop is someone who not only knows the neighborhood inside and out, but also the people who live within it.
“What I see is that we really need to redouble our efforts to connect with the community and engage with the community to break down barriers,” Upson said.
Upson returns to the Tri-Cities annually with his wife and four children, he said. His father, brother and close friends still live in Richland.
The longtime cop says his time at Richland High and coaches at the school helped shape him into the person he is today.
“I look fondly back on my experiences at Richland High, especially in athletics,” he said. “Some of my early role models helped to steer me on this path.”