It was standing-room only in the council chambers at Vancouver City Hall, with people peering in from the hallway, to watch as Jeffrey Mori was sworn in as Vancouver’s newest chief of police Thursday evening.
After Mori took his oath of office, his wife, Susan, changed his badge to that of the chief’s, and his two brothers and sister-in-law adorned his collar with the three-star pins.
In an interview before the ceremony, Mori said he’s humbled and honored to be entrusted to lead the Vancouver Police Department where he’s served as an assistant chief for the past three years. His law enforcement career was something he never imagined for himself growing up, he said, let alone becoming chief 29 years later.
He takes over from James McElvain, who was the longest-tenured chief at the department since 1962. Prior to McElvain’s eight-year stint, the agency went through a number of chiefs in several years; Mori noted the department hasn’t seen a smooth transition of leadership in a long time.
McElvain watched the ceremony from the audience, and Mori thanked him for bringing him onboard three years ago. Mori also pointed out family members, former co-workers and old college football teammates who traveled to the city for the occasion.
Mori was selected from a pool of five finalists and was one of three internal candidates, in addition to a candidate from Los Angeles and another from Waterloo, Iowa.
“It’s an honor to be selected, especially from the field of candidates that we had,” he said before the ceremony. “I just feel very humbled to have been selected. I know it’s a tough job.”
Mori joked the morning of his swearing-in that his first order of business after taking his oath would be to move his stuff into McElvain’s former office down the hall. He also planned to celebrate with friends and family.
After that, he said he’ll get to work focusing on filling the 25 vacancies at the department. That includes pushing to make the department more diverse, with an emphasis on increasing the number of women at the agency, he said.
Deputy City Manager Lisa Brandl said during the ceremony that diversifying the agency to match the growing community is only one challenge Mori will be charged with tackling during his tenure.
“As we swear in Chief Mori, Vancouver, like many cities across the nation, finds itself in a period of change and transition within the policing profession,” Brandl said. “There are challenges on achieving full staffing resulting from generational changes occurring in our workforce, and our community is swiftly becoming more diverse. I have the utmost confidence in Chief Mori’s capability to lead the next chapter of VPD toward an even more effective and inclusive future of safety and well-being for our Vancouver community.”
Mori said he brings with him strong relationships with a variety of community stakeholders, including many minority-led groups. He noted his membership with Vancouver’s chapter of the NAACP and relationship with the League of United Latin American Citizens of Southwest Washington and Vancouver’s Sikh community.
He will prioritize those types of bonds during his time as chief, he said, in order to listen to people’s expectations before times of crisis.
NAACP President Jasmine Tolbert said in a news release announcing Mori’s hiring the organization is proud of the city’s choice and that Mori has shown a commitment to navigating difficult issues in the community.
Mori said he is proud of the department he takes over and feels the community’s support.
“This is a winning program,” he said. “It’s mine to screw up really. I have a bunch of first-string, Hall of Fame people working here, who are just really amazing at what they do. The community here is so supportive of this organization, and I never, ever want to ruin that. It doesn’t mean we don’t have areas of opportunity. There are always areas that we can get better in because the minute we think we’ve reached the pinnacle, that’s when mediocrity will set in.”
Once the police department is fully staffed, Mori can implement some of his ideas, he said, and expand the programs already established.
He acknowledged that he takes over during a time when crime rates are rising nationwide; he said he’ll work toward new strategies and technologies to address some of the causes of Vancouver’s crime.
He also noted the department’s work toward implementing a body-worn camera program and said it would be part of the agency’s legacy during his tenure to establish an effective system.
With the city growing each year, Mori said he always wants to ensure that the department is keeping up with the community’s needs.
He closed the ceremony by saying, “I will give my best effort, I promise.”