Four candidates for Washougal police chief mingle with community members at reception
WASHOUGAL — Community members in Washougal had the opportunity to shake hands and converse with the city’s four candidates for police chief Tuesday evening at the Black Pearl on the Columbia.
Incumbent Chief Ron Mitchell will be retiring at the end of November, and after a series of interviews, panels and receptions, his replacement will be named within the week by City Manager David Scott.
“Integrity is just hugely important,” Scott said. “You’re trusting someone with the public safety responsibility of your community. In addition to that, I think someone who’s just real and approachable, you know, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. You got to be able to hang out and be part of a team that’s like a family and just be real and down to earth in that regard.”
Scott emphasized his desire to include the community, current members of law enforcement and council’s opinions in his choice of the next chief. Scott also reached out to Michael Painter, director of professional services for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).
“I think that all four candidates are exceptionally well qualified for the job,” Painter said. “I think that they have performed very evenly in the process, and, you know, the best measure of whether or not I’ve done my job is if the city manager has a hard time selecting a finalist. I’m telling you, he’s going to have a hard time selecting the final candidate.”
The association used a profile created by the city to distribute the job opening across the state and the country to other members of law enforcement. An initial group of nine was narrowed down to five, which became four after one candidate was hired elsewhere, Painter said.
During the community event, each candidate was allowed several minutes to introduce themselves and share why they were interested in the position as well as why they think they would excel in it.
One candidate is already serving in Clark County; La Center Police Chief Marc Denney.
“It’s still a small town community feel, and your community policing is a big thing,” Denney said. “That’s what the citizens want to see is more community oriented policing, more officers being visible and taking care of their needs and concerns. So just that, in general, and, you know, being a good steward for the city.”
Denney has more than 33 years of experience in law enforcement, including the past six in La Center. Prior to that he served in various positions of leadership within the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office for 23 years.
Denney expressed interest in working in a larger agency as his main reason for seeking out the position. Within the next 10 years, La Center Police Department is unlikely to grow much, especially with cutbacks in revenue, he said. Washougal has roughly 16,000 residents, while La Center contains about 3,200.
“It’s basically common sense approach to what the needs are in the community,” he said. “Do the right thing for the right reasons. You can’t really go wrong there. As far as mentoring, your police officers have that philosophy, and no call’s too small, you know, we’re going to handle whatever we need to handle.”
Working near Clark County and living in Camas is candidate Wendi Steinbronn, a commander at the Portland Police Bureau.
“It’s very important to support the city’s strategic plan,” Steinbronn said. “Then the department itself should have a refugee plan that upholds the city strategic plan. Then from that it’s very important to set strategies by doing things that you want to accomplish; things that can be measured. That’s how you measure performance.”
Steinbronn has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, with the last 14 in Portland, and more than a year as commander of North Precinct. She also currently serves on the volunteer leadership team for managing protests and large gatherings in the city.
Steinbronn explained that while she loves her current position, she aspires to work for at least 10 more years, and sees that as unrealistic in Portland given the large commitment required at an agency of its size. Living in Camas, she said she saw this as a closer-to-home option in a community she is familiar with.
She also said she would focus on becoming accredited with WASPC, which is already underway, as well as looking at resource allocation and how to better use officers time, or adding to staff.
Hailing from Manteca, CA is candidate Charles Goeken who is a captain at his city’s police department.
“Law enforcement is just an arm of the people we do for the community, what they necessarily can do for themselves,” Goeken said. “We need to be involved with the community, we need to be in touch with the community, we need to make sure that we have interactions with them to make sure that we’re doing what they want us to do, and interacting with them as much as possible.”
Goeken has 25 years of law enforcement experience within the city of Mateca, which has a population of 79,000 people. For the last 10 years, he has held the position of captain and as a division commander.
Goeken relayed his motivation for pursuing the position was the small town with a more intimate setting for engaging with the people and council members as well as the mayor.
“What I saw was real good community, real good police departments, you know, well liked by the community well involved,” he said.
Finally, traveling from Searcy, AR there is Assistant Police Chief Steve Taylor.
“We did a tour of the police department, and we met with the officers,” Taylor said. “They said they don’t feel like they have adequate numbers on the street, and that would be a priority for me that I want to address. Of course, the funding and everything would have to be in place, but those would be the priorities for me.”
Taylor has over 28 years law enforcement experience, including 14 years in Michigan and just as long at the Searcy Police Department, which serves about 24,000 people.
Taylor explained how he is eligible to retire at his current agency, and his wife can work remotely. He saw the advertisement for the position and pursued it. Having once lived in Ketchikan, AK, Taylor said he enjoyed the area and the rain didn’t bother him at all.
“We really strive to treat every member of the public that we come into contact with the way we would want a member of our family treated if they were had a similar contact with law enforcement,” he said.
Having received feedback from council, members of law enforcement in Washougal and the county, as well as from community members at the reception, Scott said he will likely make a decision by the end of the week, or the beginning of the next.
“A position that is so important in a community like this, I’m not going to make that decision in a vacuum,” Scott said. “One of our panels included several leaders in our community, who, across Clark County and general government and law enforcement; people that I respect and respect their opinion, and they are helping us sort sort through these, these good candidates.”
Following his selection, an extensive background check process will commence; taking somewhere between two to four weeks. The new chief is expected to start at the beginning of December.
If you have questions about the process or would like to provide feedback, you can contact City Manager Scott at David.Scott@cityofwashougal.us.