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News / Clark County News

Texan is new Woodland police chief

By Justin Runquist, Columbian Small Cities Reporter
Published: December 2, 2014, 12:00am

The Woodland Police Department will usher in a new chief this month as the city continues to wade through legal battles against one of its own detectives.

A yearlong search for a new chief came to an end Monday night as the Woodland City Council finally saw eye-to-eye with Mayor Grover Laseke on who should take the reins during what has been a troubling time for the department.

The councilors voted unanimously to hire Phillip Crochet, a commander in the recruiting and training division of the Austin Police Department in Texas.

After sifting through dozens of candidates and starting the process over twice, the councilors expressed relief at bringing the search to an end, and they were pleased with Crochet’s record.

“I think we’re all anxious to get him on board, and I think he’s very qualified,” Councilor Scott Perry said.

Crochet, from Cedar Park, Texas, has spent the last 23 years with the Austin Police Department. He got his start in law enforcement in the mid-1980s as an undercover narcotics agent working in two Texas high schools.

The new chief will come to Woodland about half a year after Detective David Plaza announced plans to sue the city for upwards of $2 million. In June, Plaza filed a tort claim making numerous misconduct allegations against former interim chief Sgt. Brad Gillaspie.

Then, in August, Plaza filed a public disclosure lawsuit against the city, seeking misconduct records and complaints against Gillaspie.

Plaza was on administrative leave at the time, facing theft allegations. He’s since been cleared of any crimes in the situation and returned to the department last month.

Crochet’s contract lays out an $84,000 salary for his first year in Woodland, with cost-of-living raises in the following years. He will start the new job in about two weeks, and a formal ceremony to swear him in will be held during the Jan. 5 council meeting at the Woodland Police Station.

The city began recruiting for a new chief last fall, when then-chief Rob Stephenson announced his retirement. Laseke re-launched the search in February after the councilors took issue with the selection process. He scrapped it again in May when the councilors rejected his preferred candidate, Vern Thompson, the chief of the Eagle Point Police Department near Medford, Ore.

In the latest round of recruiting, 16 people applied for the position. Laseke gave Crochet a tentative job offer in October after he and three other top candidates sat through a public interview session with the councilors.

The other three finalists were: Capt. Mark Daniel with the Sherwood (Ore.) Police Department, former Bremerton detective Susan Shultz, and Lt. Jeffrey Powell, who works in the small East Texas city of Palestine.

Laseke didn’t make the offer public until a background check into Crochet’s record wrapped up in late November.

Columbian Small Cities Reporter