Leaders in both San Mateo and Burlingame said Wednesday they will move full-speed ahead with plans to consider merging police departments despite not knowing whether they will lose the police official tapped to lead the effort.

The city managers of both cities said they expect to ask their respective city councils on Aug. 16 to approve funding an outside study of whether a combined police department could save taxpayers millions of dollars without damaging public safety.

But officials admitted they may have lost their shot to keep Mike Callagy, the officer they want to lead the effort.

The San Mateo deputy police chief was one of two finalists for the vacant Menlo Park police chief job filled Monday. Callagy said earlier this week he and Menlo Park officials could not agree on his salary, and the city instead picked a Sacramento-area officer for the job.

Council members in both cities said they realize Callagy has the résumé and desire to be a police chief elsewhere, and they would not be surprised if he left.

"It's the nature of the business," San Mateo Councilman David Lim said. "Someone with the skill and caliber of Mike Callagy, you almost know and assume he's not going to stay in one place for that long."

For his part, Callagy figures he has at least four to six years left as a police officer and wants to retire in San Mateo, where he has been for 26 years.

"I'm emotionally tied to San Mateo," he said when asked if he had aspirations to be a chief somewhere else. "It would be very, very difficult for me to leave this city."

Callagy has been in line to take over as Burlingame police chief while keeping the post as San Mateo's second-ranked officer. A major part of his tenure would include leading a potential merger between the two police forces.

As part of the deal, San Mateo would receive $240,000 annually from Burlingame, which would get a chief at a 20 percent discount.
Already, Callagy has worked with Burlingame officials to create a 30-page report on combining police departments and has been characterized by leaders in both cities as a credible officer respected around the county.

Some officials say he'd also been tapped to take over for San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer, who heads the California Police Chiefs Association, if she leaves for a bigger department. Manheimer is scheduled to be chief of the joint police force if San Mateo and Burlingame merge departments.

San Mateo officials in April approved loaning Callagy to Burlingame, but the Burlingame council — after some police officers and residents feared the hire would seal a later merger — postponed the vote until later this year.

While leaders said they wanted Callagy to stay, his departure would not delay them from funding the study and seeing if a merger will make sense. As Burlingame Councilman Michael Brownrigg put it, "There are a lot of talented people out there."

"His going to some other city is not going to kill the possibility of a merger — not by any means," Burlingame Councilman Jerry Deal said. "The process goes on. If he's going to look for another job, more power to him."
San Mateo City Manager Susan Loftus said whatever deal is reached with Burlingame has to work long beyond the architects have moved on.

"As individuals come and individuals leave, we need to have a model that will work over time," Loftus said.
The study is expected to last about six months. The Burlingame council would wait for the results of the report before filling its police chief job, currently held by Ed Wood, a commander promoted to the job on an interim basis.

Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation. Contact him at 650-348-4324.