Former Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke has died, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on April 6.

“The loss of Kevin Burke, our former Police Chief, will be felt by countless members of our community,” Healdsburg Mayor Ozzy Jimenez said in the written statement. “His light and kind heart will be missed by so many. Our Healdsburg Police Department has lost a great leader and friend.”

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Juan Valencia said sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to Burke’s residence on the 800 block of Josephine Lane in Healdsburg yesterday (Tuesday) at 6:15 p.m. to take over the investigation after the Healdsburg Police Department arrived on scene.

The Healdsburg Police Department responded to Burke’s residence to conduct a welfare check after a friend of Burke could not get a hold of him. Valencia confirmed with SoCoNews that the death was an apparent suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The sheriff’s office will be leading the investigation into Burke’s death. Valencia said the sheriff’s office is taking on the investigation in order to be transparent about the investigation since the incident involves a retired Healdsburg police chief.

“The biggest factor also is that they worked for Chief Burke and just the stress and the mental toll it would take on a person to see the chief in that position and under these circumstances is a lot,” Valencia said.

Valencia said it will take a couple of weeks to determine the exact time of death and the official cause.

In an investigation such as this, Valencia said deputies make sure there were no signs of foul play, forced entry or trauma to the body.

Jimenez told SoCoNews that Burke’s death pains and saddens him and everyone on the city staff.

“I think it is really important to highlight that mental health is something that continues to need to be addressed in our communities. Chief Burke is an amazing human being and I just wish our community could have maybe done more for him — I don’t know what that looks like necessarily, it just pains and saddens me and everyone on city staff and his family. It’s really unfortunate, but there are resources out there. There’s the national suicide prevention hotline, there are resources out there for LGBTQ+ folks who need to be able to have mental health resources,” Jimenez said. 

In response to the news, the City of Healdsburg released a statement on Wednesday on the city’s Facebook page stating that the city and the entire Healdsburg community are deeply saddened by Burke’s death.

Burke, 55, served as the city’s police chief from 2011 to 2021 and had recently announced that he was pulling out of the race for Sonoma County Sheriff due to health reasons.

Burke announced his candidacy for the sheriff seat on Jan. 10 and quickly received several endorsements from Healdsburg elected officials such as Mayor Ozzy Jimenez, Vice Mayor Ariel Kelley and Councilmember Evelyn Mitchell, and from other Sonoma County officials, including, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers and Santa Rosa Councilmember Victoria Fleming.

“We are all shocked by the passing of Chief Burke. While we mourn the loss, we remember him for the amazing person he was — both as a friend and as a colleague. He will be forever missed,” Healdsburg Police Chief Matt Jenkins told SoCoNews in a written statement. “We are grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and other law enforcement agencies across the region as the news of his passing spread.”

Healdsburg City Manager Jeff Kay said flags at City of Healdsburg facilities have been ordered to fly at half staff. Kay said he’s sure the city will do more to honor Burke soon.

Vice Mayor Ariel Kelley said in a statement posted to her Facebook page that she hopes the community will come together to memorialize him and to create a legacy where he will be remembered and honored.

“We received the tragic news of the passing of beloved former Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke. This is a heartbreaking loss to our entire community. I loved him as a friend and admired and respected him deeply as a colleague. He was loved by so many. The feelings of grief we are experiencing as a community are unfathomable,” Kelley wrote in the statement. 

In the statement from the city, Jenkins called Burke a mentor and a friend who led the city through many difficult times with “courage and dignity.”

The Healdsburg Police Officers’ Association also released a statement in response to Burke’s death. The statement released on the association’s Facebook page states the association is at a complete loss for words.

“We are sending Chief Burke’s family and friends our love and support,” the statement says.

As Healdsburg Police Chief, Burke led the city through several natural disasters such as floods and fires, most recently the Kincade Fire — which resulted in the evacuation of the entire city — and the Walbridge Fire.

He also oversaw the use and implementation of Narcan kits — an opioid suppressing nasal spray that blocks the opioid receptors in the brain — which have been successful on several accounts in reviving individuals who had suffered from drug overdoses.

Under Burke and the Harm Reduction Task Force, the department also started providing fentanyl detection strips.

In June 2020, Burke introduced his plan to pursue a major police department reorganization and reallocation of funds in order to create a community equity team with a licensed clinical social worker and an officer. The Community Oriented and Equity (CORE) Policing Team was launched in October 2021.

Burke announced his plans to retire from the police department in November 2020 and retired in 2021. He was an admired figure in the community and over the years, participated in many community events.

“The city is deeply saddened by this loss. Chief Burke was a true wit, a friend and advisor to his colleagues, and a respected member of the city team,” reads the City of Healdsburg statement.

Prior to his time in Healdsburg, Burke worked as the chief of police for the city of Lakeport. He was also a former prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and was a sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“We like to send our condolences to the Healdsburg Police Department, to family and friends and the law enforcement community during this difficult time,” Valencia said. 

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