Deputy leads transition for La Center

Nolan interim police chief as city seeks former leader's replacement

By Tyler Graf and Patty Hastings

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Six weeks after taking the helm of the La Center Police Department, the law enforcement official tasked with being the city's temporary top cop says her goals are the same as they've ever been, even as the police department goes through a period of transition.

Interim Police Chief Erin Nolan says she plans to restore leadership to the La Center Police Department in the wake of former Chief Tim Hopkin's retirement in September. Hopkin's retirement came on the heels of a consultant's report, which highlighted rifts within the police department.

Nolan is dividing her time between La Center and her job as chief civil deputy at the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

"I'm trying to balance personal and private responsibilities right now," she said.

She said her top goals in the wake of the police department's performance audit and Hopkin's retirement are restoring leadership and contributing something positive to the department, so officers are prepared for a new full-time police chief.

"Hopefully, they'll get some good candidates who are qualified and interested," Nolan said.

Hopkin retired in September after Pasco-based employee development company Dynamic Pathways LLC conducted its performance audit of the police department.

The resulting 24-page document included employee interviews, which revealed conflicts and uncertainty within the department. Employees criticized the chief's elusive schedule, the department's "broken leadership" and lowered morale. Some employees said they sought guidance and received none.

Consultants also put together a management plan, which recommended the chief of police take a more active role in the day-to-day operations of the department.

Attempts to reach Hopkin for comment were unsuccessful.

While Mayor Jim Irish lauded Hopkin for his 28 years with the La Center Police Department, saying he "served the city well when he was here," he added that employees had concerns about how the police department was run.

"We had some different concerns raised by members of the police force and our own concerns about some things that were happening there," Irish said.

La Center plans to conduct similar performance audits of its finance and public works departments at the beginning of the year, he said.

Acting as a temporary chief of police is nothing novel for Nolan, who has experience in the job.

From March until May 2006, Nolan served as interim police chief at the Ridgefield Police Department, following the resignation of Chief Bruce Hall. That police department had a troubled past, including an officer who filed suit against the city on allegations of racism.

The department's current chief, Carrie Greene, was called "brave" for accepting the job.

Nowadays, the Ridgefield Police Department offers 24-hour service to the city's 4,851 residents. Its staff increased from four to seven officers. And when you call the police department, Greene will often answer if her secretary isn't at the front desk.

Nolan said her time at La Center has been calmer than her experience in Ridgefield. She said the two situations were "not comparable."

La Center is paying a Northwest-based consulting firm, The Prothman Company, $16,500 to find a full-time chief of police.

Greg Prothman, president of the Issaquah company, spent a day in La Center meeting with council members, department heads and residents to figure out what they're looking for in a new chief.

"They're hoping to find someone who's a working, hands-on police chief," Prothman said.

He said La Center wants a chief who can both manage the department and patrol the streets when needed, who will get to know the community and be approachable.

Prothman expects to receive about 35 or 40 responses to the advertisements. They'll screen for the best candidates and hand over the final interview process to the city. If all goes well for the city, La Center should have a new police chief in four months.

The new chief will earn between $82,840 to $100,693 plus retirement and benefits.