Interim Vancouver police chief aims for top job

Sutter says he plans to apply to lead force

By Emily Gillespie and Patty Hastings

Published:

 
photoChris Sutter

Interim Chief Chris Sutter plans to apply for the job of Vancouver’s chief of police, posted on the city’s website Friday.

Sutter was appointed as interim chief after former Chief Cliff Cook resigned at the end of August. Prior to that, Sutter was assistant chief for five of his 21 years at the Vancouver Police Department. He has also worked in patrol, investigations, internal affairs, as a child abuse detective and as a commander for patrol, administration and special operations.

Cook’s resignation was described as a mutual decision by City Manager Eric Holmes and Cook that the department needed “fresh leadership.” The announcement came two years and two months after the police officers’ guild held a no-confidence vote against Cook’s leadership style.

The city has since hired nonprofit organization International City/County Management Association to conduct a wide-ranging assessment of the Vancouver Police Department and assist in hiring a new chief. Holmes expects the assessment to be finished in mid-March.

The position was listed on multiple job posting sites, including govtjobs.com, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Latino Peace Officers, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and the Police Executive Research Forum.

The posting strongly encourages qualified applicants to apply by March 22, the deadline for the city’s first round of résumé reviews.

Screened candidates can expect a new component to the interview process: Panelists will administer tests to see how candidates react in real-life situations and what kind of decisions they make. The simulations will be based on the findings in the departmental assessment.

In addition to command-level training and experience as a police chief, the posting calls for someone who recognizes the “goal of public safety is a community interest, not just a police department one.” Open communication with Holmes and the rest of the city council, to keep them informed on agency happenings, is vital.

A new leadership tone is needed, Holmes said, that helps the department move forward and evolve services, even with limited resources. A couple of grant-funded positions will run out in the next couple of years. Holmes said the department has a history of labor management tensions that need to be addressed by the new chief.

Though Holmes said he appreciates the level of leadership interim chief Sutter has brought to the department, his candidacy will be vetted amongst others in the talent pool.

After leading 189 sworn officers and 24 civilians for the past six months, Sutter said he is excited by the opportunity to lead the agency permanently.

“It’s easy for me to want to be chief here,” he said. “It’s inspiring to be the leader of an organization of really good people trying to do good every day.”

He said that if he gets the position, he is open to change and that the results of the assessment will provide a good road map.

“I think we have to change. It’s the way we achieve goals and objectives,” Sutter said. “I see the agency moving more toward proactive policing versus reactionary.”

He said that since assuming the leadership role, he has opened the lines of communications through the rank and file.

“The unions have been at the table with me since the first week, and they continue to be. I value that partnership,” he said. “I (also) get along great with city leadership and think we could do great things.”

The position, which currently offers an annual salary between $124,608 and $142,608, remains open until it’s filled. Holmes looks to identify a candidate for hire by the end of the first quarter.

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.