Former Vancouver police chief chosen for Bellingham job

He clashed with union as city's top cop; official hiring ahead

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BELLINGHAM — The city’s prospective police chief has high hopes for his new job, after his last tenure as chief was marked by friction with a police union.

Clifford Cook — the former police chief of Vancouver — was named by Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville as her choice for the position Wednesday. He must pass a background check and go through state-mandated hiring standards before he’s officially hired.

Last week, city staff interviewed, reviewed and winnowed a pool of six candidates: two in-house deputy chiefs and four experienced police officers from other departments. They picked Cook, 57, who got good reviews from Linville and high-ranking Bellingham officers.

Cook has 36 years of experience in law enforcement. In July, he announced he would resign from his post in Vancouver. According to The Oregonian, he “inherited a department accused of retaliation and discrimination by a former officer, then weathered a no-confidence vote from the police guild three years later” when conflicts about internal investigations boiled over.

“The Vancouver Police Department is a very good agency,” Cook said in an interview Wednesday. But “it has historically been a very challenging environment. The relationship between labor and management has been strained for many years.”

Cook lasted five years in Vancouver, the longest tenure of any chief since 1996, according to The Columbian.

Amid the controversy, he said, he learned some valuable lessons.

“When you stop learning, it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing,” he said. “A lot of success was overshadowed by the labor organization.”

Cook predicts better collaboration between the Bellingham top brass and the rank-and-file guild. In a prepared statement sent by the city, Bellingham Police Guild President Chad Cristelli said the guild appreciated having a say in making the choice.

“We will welcome Chief Cook to our community, our city and our police department,” he said. “We remain steadfast in our dedication to serving the community and expect Chief Cook to play a vital role representing the Bellingham Police Department.”

Cristelli and Linville couldn’t be reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, but in the statement, Linville praised the prospective chief as a “strong, steady, ethical professional.”

Cook was selected over Bellingham deputy chiefs David Doll and Flo Simon; Gene Markle, a retired Kirkland police captain; Christopher Elg, chief of police in West Monroe, La.; and James Lever, assistant chief of the Washington State Patrol’s Technical Services Bureau.

Bellingham’s outgoing police chief, Todd Ramsay, announced his retirement in early September. His interim replacement, Mark Gill, will return to other duties when the new chief takes the helm. Gill was not in the running for the position.

Linville expects to offer Cook a contract in January.

“A lot of my peers had positive things to say about the city and about the department,” Cook said. “I’m ready to get to work.”