Washougal to seek new police chief

Chief Ron Mitchell set to retire in November after 23 years on job

Washougal Police Department (WPD) chief Ron Mitchell will retire later this year.

Mitchell, who has worked for the WPD for 23 years, told city of Washougal leaders in 2018 that he plans to step down in November.

“It’s just time,” Mitchell said. “I want to pursue other interests, and it’s a good time for me to do that. It’s not like there’s anything wrong here with the city. Everything is fine. I want to do other things, and I don’t want that to be a distraction for what needs to be done here in fairness to the department.”

The city of Washougal will post an advertisement for the position on July 9, and city leaders hope to have Mitchell’s replacement start work in December, negating the need for an interim chief.

“Ron basically said he’d stay until his replacement is here,” Washougal city councilman Paul Greenlee said.

At the city’s June 24 workshop, human resources officer Jeanette Cefalo told the council that the city has been advised by Mike Painter of the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs to consider raising the maximum salary for its police chief.

Cefalo told council members Painter recommended increasing the top amount to about $140,000 a year. Mitchell, who is at the top of the city’s current salary range for the position, has an annual salary of $134,487.

“We want a good strong healthy pool, and sometimes you have to do that for those difficult-to-fill positions,” Cefalo said about increasing the maximum police chief salary. “It’s a tough climate right now, certainly, for some positions. We’ll see what the numbers show and be realistic.”

Cefalo told council members that she will continue to work with Painter to collect information and most likely request a vote for change at the next council meeting on Monday, July 8.

After the council’s June 24 meeting, Washougal Mayor Molly Coston said she would be in favor of raising the maximum salary for the position.

“Any police recruitment is very difficult. It takes a long time,” she said. “My personal feeling would be to bump up that top range to $140,000 if that’s going to help us recruit a better quality candidate. I think in the future you’re probably going to see a lot of other communities bump up some of those top ranges.”

Chief succeeds with ‘quiet steadiness’

Mitchell joined the WPD in 1985 as a reserve officer. For the next four years he continued to work at his full-time job in medical sales, a position that required extensive travel throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.

“It just got harder and harder to keep up with the required hours of a reserve,” he said. “When I applied to be a reserve, it was a way to give back to the community. I enjoyed it, and I thought, ‘Could I do this as a career?’”

The answer to that question was “Yes.” Mitchell left his sales job and joined the WPD as a full-time officer in 1996. He was named as the department’s interim chief in September 2008 after the resignation of public safety director Cam Hershaw. City leaders removed the “interim” title in March 2009 and Mitchell took over as the city’s police chief.

“I’m probably a little more relaxed than some of the other chiefs in the area,” he said. “The biggest thing for me — and this is what I tell people when they’re hired — is that they conduct themselves in a professional manner with the public. I recognize how tough a job it is, particularly nowadays.”

When Mitchell took over, the police department had a chief and two sergeants. Now the department has a chief, commander and five sergeants.

“Ron was instrumental in the growth of our department,” said WPD Commander Allen Cook, who has worked with Mitchell for 23 years. “We had always focused on hiring patrol officers, but not the sergeants and other positions that are extremely critical. We never grew as a fully functioning department until these changes were made.”

Coston described Mitchell’s impact on the WPD as “remarkable.”

“He’s very fit, very robust, very strong, and yet he has a very caring demeanor,” she said. “He’s extremely compassionate, and I think he brings a lot of that to his team.”

Greenlee said Mitchell has “a quiet steadiness about him.”

“He has that kind of rock-solid demeanor and appearance to him, which has been a big help in the transition from his predecessor,” Greenlee said.
Mitchell plans to stay busy in retirement. He’d like to find some local volunteer opportunities, travel and spend more time on his hobbies, which include wildlife and landscape photography and cooking.

“It’s kind of calming,” Mitchell said about photography. “There’s a technical part that’s kind of fun to learn. I’ve been taking a lot of online classes, but now it’s time to go apply that in the field. Cooking is kind of like photography for me; it’s relaxing. I’d like to learn how to cook healthier options. I won’t be opening any restaurants or food carts, but there’s certain things that I’d like to learn to cook, because I like to eat.”

Cook said that “at the end of the day, (Mitchell) will be missed.”

“To be a good leader, you have to allow people to function in their positions and not micromanage, and that’s his style for the most part, which is good. That’s not typical for a department of this size,” Cook said. “He’s very approachable, very open, willing to listen to everybody’s side. He’s had a huge impact on this department, much more than any other chief that I know of.”