Outside help sought to find new police chief

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

A nonprofit organization has been hired to conduct a wide-ranging assessment of the Vancouver Police Department and assist in hiring a new police chief.

The city has retained the Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association, city spokeswoman Barbara Ayers said Thursday.

The city will spend between $130,000 and $140,000, Ayers said.

She said Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes decided outside input was necessary after meeting with department members, which Holmes did following the Aug. 31 departure of Chief Cliff Cook.

Cook’s resignation was announced July 13. It was described as a mutual decision by Holmes and Cook that the department needed “fresh leadership.” The announcement came two years and two months after the police officer’s guild had a no-confidence vote against Cook’s leadership style.

At the time of the vote, Cook was supported by then-City Manager­ Pat McDonnell.

Assistant Chief Chris Sutter has been serving as interim chief.

Cook, who earned $138,420 in 2011, was hired in 2007 from Fort Worth, Texas. His tenure as chief was the longest since Rod Frederiksen, who served from 1991 till 1996. Cook had to make unpopular cuts as part of citywide reductions, and long-running tension between officers and command staff was not diffused during his tenure. Cook was described as an isolating figure who didn’t take the time to get to know his staff, even failing to know some of their names. He was more popular outside the department, particularly among civilian volunteers for the Neighbors on Watch program.

A 2009 study by the Matrix Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif., was conducted to find ways to improve the department’s culture.

The new study, Ayers said, will analyze how the department operates, compared to national standards and best practices, and try to find efficiencies.

The International City/County Management Association will study, among other things, how the department deploys officers, officer response times, crime data and whether the department can be doing more targeted crime reduction work. She said ICMA will have an expert panel to consider specific community needs.

“It’s all about setting the stage for the recruitment of a new chief,” Ayers said.

The analysis will start this month and a report will be due at the end of the first quarter, she said. By March, the city expects to be recruiting. Experts from ICMA will design exercises for candidates in order to identify the best match for the city’s needs.

Sgt. Jeff Kipp, president of the police guild, said Thursday that he’ll be interested to hear the recommendations.

“We’re not opposed to a fresh look or a different approach,” Kipp said. “We don’t have enough police officers, we don’t perform some very core police functions.”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents. Vancouver’s ratio is closer to 1.2, Kipp said.

The department doesn’t have any detectives to do property crime work, Kipp said, as an example of where the department has cut.

“We’ve tried to prioritize,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what they say … in the event they say we should shift resources from x to y, whatever you were doing in x isn’t going to be done anymore.”

Kipp said the morale among officers has improved, however.

Ayers said ICMA will survey officers before deciding on criteria for a new chief.

She said ICMA has conducted approximately 150 similar studies in 30 states, in communities with populations ranging from 8,000 to 800,000.