Candidates for Tigard's open police chief position had an opportunity Thursday evening to meet some of the people they hope to swear to serve and protect.
The six finalists all appeared at a meet-and-greet at Tigard City Hall, where they had about two hours to meet with members of the public, city staff and even a few city councilors. Community members were asked to fill out comment cards with their thoughts on each candidate with whom they spoke, listing perceived "pros" and "cons" along with other observations.
None of the candidates had very far to go to get to Tigard for a couple days of interviews, meetings and tours last week. Four of them are from law enforcement agencies in Washington — two from Vancouver, two from the Seattle area — and the remaining two are from Oregon.
Contenders see 'opportunity' in open Tigard position
The candidate with the shortest drive was undoubtedly Jeff Groth, Sherwood's police chief and a resident of Tualatin. Groth has been leading the Sherwood Police Department since 2008, previously serving for 18 years with the Tualatin Police Department.
"Sherwood is a tremendous community … very happy there," said Groth, explaining why he applied for the position in his neighboring city. "But Tigard offers an opportunity. You know, it's a little bit bigger, it's a strong police department. … It's just a great opportunity for me at this point in my career to move into this position here in Tigard."
Steve Shea and Chris Sutter also didn't have far to go. Shea is a chief deputy at the Clark County Sheriff's Office in Vancouver, while Sutter is assistant chief of Vancouver police.
Shea, who has been leading his office's civil branch for about two years, receives an alert when new jobs that might be of interest to him are posted, he told The Times. He said Tigard caught his eye because of the city and police department's written values, which he praised for being "not fluffy."
"One of the first things I do is I research the city to find out if that's a place I would want to live and work, and what's there," Shea explained.
Sutter said that after more than 30 years in law enforcement, he feels it is his time to make the big step up.
"I've served in all the different divisions and bureaus of my agency, and I'm just ready for the leadership opportunity to lead an agency and have that level of both responsibility and, I think, satisfaction in helping make Tigard a safer place to live," he said.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Major Tom Worthy. Worthy is the head of the Oregon State Police's Public Safety Services Bureau, based in Salem.
"It's narrow at the top. At OSP, we've got a new superintendent, and while I'm in the upper stratosphere of the department, something inside me says, 'You don't want to be a first base coach, you want to be the manager. You don't want to be the offensive coordinator, you want to be the head coach,'" Worthy said. "And I think I bring a lot to the table. I've built my career toward this point, and for me to exercise and implement those things that I've been taught and learned and gained through experience, I need to be in that role."
Worthy used to patrol the Portland area, so he is familiar with the region, he said.
"Tigard's a growing community," he said. "It's a vibrant community. It's a place that people can call home, raise a family, and feel safe and secure and happy here. So what's not to like?"
The two Seattle-area candidates, Des Moines Police Chief George Delgado and Tacoma Assistant Chief Kathy McAlpine, also said they know the Portland area. Delgado served in the Vancouver Police Department being being hired in Des Moines in 2012 and said he has family in Camas, Wash., while McAlpine said she is "very interested in northern Oregon" and has spent some recreational time in the area.
Delgado and McAlpine both come from Seattle suburbs, but the cities and departments they represent are otherwise very different. Des Moines has a population of about 31,000 and a department so small it doesn't even have an assistant chief, the position McAlpine holds in Tacoma — home to about 208,000 people and with 338 sworn police officers.
Like Groth, the only other full chief on the shortlist in Tigard, Delgado said the chance to move to the larger community is "an opportunity" he did not want to miss.
"One of the things we enjoyed when we lived in the Portland metro area was the Westside," Delgado said. He added, "It's really about family. It's about bringing my family to the right community."
McAlpine, now in her 31st year in law enforcement, also talked about wanting to capitalize on an opportunity in Tigard.
"Everything I've seen is encouraging and welcoming as a city and a department," McAlpine said. "I'm evaluating them as much as they're evaluating me, and so far, I'm really happy with what I've seen — very encouraging and positive."
Candidates tout experience, philosophies of building trust
The opening in Tigard was ideal for McAlpine, she explained, because the city was hiring an external candidate, it has a "good-sized" police department and it is in the area where she wants to continue working.
"I like the policing in the Northwest," she said. "It's a very professional organization. So I knew I wanted to stay in the Northwest."
That idea of a Northwestern style of policing was a factor in how Tigard, after a nationwide search, ended up with a shortlist of candidates all from Oregon and Washington, according to City Manager Marty Wine.
"When you go talk to police agencies throughout the nation, you learn that the culture and the style of policing is regional," Wine said. "And so one of the things all of these candidates bring is the knowledge of what it's like to be a police executive in the Northwest, and that actually is an asset."
Groth also spoke favorably of the local approach to law enforcement.
"We have it really good in Oregon, because compared to the rest of the country, we have, I think, a much higher level of policing … and specifically in Washington County out of all of Oregon, we police very well here," Groth said.
All six candidates gave similar answers when asked how they, as Tigard's police chief, would address a national climate fraught with tension between law enforcement and segments of the communities they serve, particularly communities of color. More than one referred to the crisis in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and 2015 that was sparked by the fatal shooting of a young black man named Michael Brown by police, and later reignited when a grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting.
"Long before that incident, they had horrible connections with the community, and there were some horrible things going on in that town," Shea said. "The shooting was just the tip of the iceberg. It was so much more than that."
Shea said it is important to have contacts in minority communities. He mentioned the Latino community as an example, saying some Latinos underreport crime and are afraid to call the police because they are worried about being deported.
"It's important to have outreach to those communities to let them know, first of all, we don't do immigration. That's not our job. We don't care about it," Shea said. "Unless you're a crook who's going to jail for drug-dealing or something like that, we don't care about your immigration status. We're here to protect the citizens of the community, period."
Delgado said that in general, problems arise when there is a "schism" between the community and police. He said that as Des Moines' chief, he works with high school and church groups to learn about the issues that people are dealing with.
"When I go and investigate a domestic violence call, when you get down to the root, there's usually a need or an issue within that family that's not being addressed that led to that — whether it's drug abuse, alcoholism, no job, sheer hunger, whatever you have, it's important to address those things," Delgado said. "So for us, building public trust is a big issue. … When they know that they can come and talk to you, we're building a relationship."
Finalists share thoughts on community, 'relational' policing
McAlpine and Sutter highlighted their experience working with minority groups in their communities. They both mentioned the idea of "implicit bias," in which people subconsciously respond differently to people or make assumptions based on their demographics, and the training officers in their departments have undergone to make them aware of it.
"In Tacoma, we're a nationally accredited organization since 2010, so I know what best practices look like," McAlpine said.
McAlpine and Worthy come from the largest law enforcement agencies of the six finalists.
"For me, it gives me that confidence that with Tacoma, I have seen and done just about anything that you can ever imagine," McAlpine said. "We've had the mall shooting. We've had the high school shooting. We are talking about race and equity. We are dealing with gang problems to homelessness issues. … Where I think the advantages (are) is even if we don't ever see some things, you have it in your toolbox, or you can see it coming."
Despite the size of the Oregon State Police — with more than 1,200 employees, it dwarfs the Tacoma Police Department, to say nothing of the 72-officer Tigard Police Department — Worthy said the philosophy of "community policing" is important to it, as well as to him.
"I think community policing resides in the very fabric of the department, and it's really an attitude towards how you deliver services," he said, explaining his thoughts on the concept. "It's that I'm not a warrior against my community, I'm a guardian in front of them, and that I'm out there to help."
"Community policing is more than just crime-fighting, it's crime prevention, but it's also building relationships with the community," Sutter said. "Because without the community trusting the police and having legitimacy, understanding that the police are professional and representative of the community, then the community won't have the buy-in or the trust that's needed for us to accomplish our mission."
Groth, who represents the smallest community among the six finalists, took that idea of what he called "relational policing" a step further.
He said, "The police department should know its community, and the community should know its police department. And a lot of times, what I will ask people is, 'How many police officers do you know by first name?' 'Oh, I don't know.' Well, then we're not doing the relational policing like we should, because just about anybody should be able to say, 'Oh, well, I know this one officer because he's at my school,' or, 'I know this officer because she comes into the store all the time.' Somebody, somewhere, right? … And when you build those relationships, then trust comes with it and you can police better together."
No internal candidates on the shortlist
If Groth is hired in Tigard, that would open up the chief position in Sherwood — making it the latest community in the area to lose its police chief, after last summer, chiefs in Beaverton, Portland, Tigard and Tualatin all retired within weeks of one another. But Groth argued that it would be "a wash" if he moved to Tigard.
"If I'm fortunate enough, blessed enough, to become Tigard's new chief, it's a wash," Groth said. "I'm a police chief in Washington County, and so many of the new chiefs that we've got in Washington County are from Washington County."
It could be another week or two before a final decision is made, and then a few more weeks before the new hire officially starts work.
"Our hope is to have somebody on board as soon as it's possible," Wine said.
None of the six finalists are current or former Tigard police officers. Wine and Assistant City Manager Liz Newton said that came down to a combination of interest and experience — Robert L. Rogers II, who has been serving as interim chief since October, preferred to remain a commander in the Tigard Police Department rather than become the permanent chief, while Jamey McDonald, Tigard's other police commander, was just recently promoted to that position.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times