Vancouver police chief search narrows to one

Acting chief ruled out; Southern California candidate remains

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes has not made an offer in his search for a new police chief, but he has narrowed his choices to one.

Holmes said Tuesday that James McElvain, a captain with the Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department, still needs to clear a few hurdles before being offered the job. Holmes said the field had been narrowed to McElvain and Acting Chief Chris Sutter, and Holmes eliminated Sutter from contention.

A national search yielded 60 applicants.

Two of five finalists, Ronald Ruecker and Paul Walters, withdrew their names after visiting the city in August for panel interviews with community members and police officers.

Ruecker serves as an assistant director of the office of law enforcement coordination for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C.

Walters worked as chief of the Santa Ana Police Department from 1988 to 2011.

A third finalist, Gresham (Ore.) Police Chief Craig Junginger, later withdrew his name, Holmes said.

That left McElvain and Sutter, who has been with the city since 1992 and was named assistant chief in 2008. Sutter has been acting chief since Cliff Cook resigned last year after announcing he and Holmes agreed that the department needed “fresh leadership.”

Development, experience

In an email to people who participated in panel interviews, Holmes wrote he chose McElvain “due to his advanced professional development and experience serving multiple local jurisdictions.”

Riverside County ranks among the 50 largest agencies nationwide, with approximately 2,400 sworn officers.

McElvain had been serving as chief of three communities with a total population larger than Vancouver. He’s currently assigned to the Ben Clark Training Center.

Holmes thanked Sutter for his management of the department over the past year and his ongoing commitment to the agency, which has approximately 180 officers.

“I am aware of the anticipation within the department and the city of appointment of the next chief. My commitment to making a sound and timely appointment has been rooted in my interest in assuring the greatest opportunity for success in the next chapter of VPD. To that end, I appreciate your support of and participation in a deliberative process,” Holmes wrote.

Holmes flew Tuesday to Perris, Calif., to conduct interviews. McElvain will need to undergo a psychological examination and take a polygraph.

The salary was posted as under review, but the current annual salary range tops out at $143,000, Holmes said.

Cook’s five years as police chief were the longest tenure of any chief since Rod Frederiksen, who served five years and four months from 1991 till 1996.

Cook, who was hired from Fort Worth, Texas, had to make unpopular cuts as part of citywide reductions, and long-running tension between officers and command staff was not defused during his tenure. Cook was described as an isolating figure who didn’t take the time to get to know his staff. He was more popular outside the department, particularly among civilian volunteers for the Neighbors on Watch program. He was the subject of a no-confidence vote by the police guild in 2010. He now heads the Bellingham Police Department.