Portland officer selected as Washougal’s police chief

Camas resident Wendi Steinbronn 'has strong law enforcement credentials'

For the past 15 years, Portland police commander Wendi Steinbronn has lived in Camas and worked in Portland. Starting next month, she’ll have a much easier commute.

Leaders in the city of Washougal announced last week that Steinbronn, a 25-year veteran of the city of Portland Police Bureau (PPB), will replace Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell after his retirement at the end of this month.

“I’m very excited and really thrilled,” Steinbronn said. “I felt pretty confident (through the hiring process). When I first read the job description, the position seemed tailor-made for me. I wasn’t interested in relocating because I like where I’m living now. I know a lot about the Washougal community, and I think it’s going to be exactly what I was looking for. I think I’ll fit right in.”

Steinbronn will replace retiring Mitchell, who is retiring after a 23-year career at the Washougal Police Department, at the end of November.

In July, the city of Washougal began a nationwide search and selection process, facilitated by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Nine people applied for the position and city leaders chose five finalists: Steinbronn; La Center Police Chief Marc Denney; Charles Goeken, a police captain and former mayor from California; Steve Taylor, an assistant police chief from Arkansas; and a fifth candidate who withdrew from consideration.

“All four finalists were solid candidates, and any one of them could’ve been successful in this role,” said Washougal City Manager David Scott. “We wanted someone with integrity and approachability, and an ability to communicate well and engage with a variety of audiences. We’re serious about what we do, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously when we do it, so we’re a family organization in that sense, and we wanted someone who would fit in with that. And, of course, we wanted a high level of competency and professional experience.”

Steinbronn will oversee a department of 25 employees, including 21 commissioned officers. She currently is commander of PPB’s North Precinct, which serves a population of approximately 190,000 people with 135 employees.

Prior to her appointment as North Precinct commander, Steinbronn served in a variety of roles at the PPB, including: supervisor for property crimes detectives and a neighborhood response team; commanding officer of the records division; executive officer to assistant chiefs; government relations liaison; and operations manager of the family services division.

“I’ve been fortunate to work for a large agency where I’ve had the opportunity to do a variety of work and hold a lot of different positions,” she said. “I’ve done investigations. I’ve worked on the administrative side. I have extensive patrol experience. I don’t want to say that I’ve done it all, but I feel that I’m well-rounded. I feel confident that my experience at (the PPB) has prepared me well.”

Steinbronn, who grew up in Oregon and Southwest Washington, came to policing later in life. After graduating from Portland State University with a degree in business administration, she worked in the high-tech industry, mostly as a fabricator, for several years until her company “ran out of money and shut down.”

“At the time, one of my neighbor’s friends worked for the city of Portland, and I met him at a barbecue, and he said that the city was hiring officers,” she said. “I put in an application, was hired, and it’s been an awesome career. There have been parts of it that I haven’t liked, but overall it’s been very rewarding, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Steinbronn and her husband, Rich, a crisis officer at the PPB, have a son, Chris, a freshman at Camas High School and budding baseball talent. He was a member of the Vancouver-based Northwest Futures club team last summer and plans to play for the Papermakers this spring.

Steinnbronn is in the process of obtaining certification in personal training. She tries to get out and run about four times per week, either around her Deer Creek neighborhood or Lacamas Lake.

“Officer wellness is an important piece of the puzzle that’s been neglected for a long time,” she said. “I’m not a bodybuilder or anything, but I’m in good shape for my age. This job takes a lot of stamina. I’ve done two 5K runs and one 10K run in the past six months. I don’t (participate in those events) to win anything, but they give me a lot of personal satisfaction, and more motivation to train.”

She also has an indoor hobby — online gaming. A longtime “World of Warcraft” (WoW) player, she’s currently enjoying the massive multiplayer online role-playing game’s “Battle for Azeroth” expansion.

“When my husband I and I were dating, a group of us at the precinct would get home from work at 2:30 a.m., sit down at the computer and play’ for a few hours,’” she said. “At first we played ‘Counter-Strike.’ We played a lot of ‘Delta Force: Black Hawk Down.’ And then we got into ‘Call of Duty.’ After I had Chris, I had to drop it for awhile, but then I picked it back up. When I first started playing ‘WoW,’ I was strictly an Alliance character, but now that I’ve gotten back into it, I play as a Horde hunter. I don’t have time to join groups or go on raids, so I have to get around on my own.”

“She’s super down-to-earth and straight-forward,” said PPB Assistant Police Chief Chris Davis, who has worked with Steinbronn since 1998. “She’s good at connecting with people and has a strong moral compass, which is important in this line of work. She doesn’t attract attention to herself, and she’s not a self-promoter, but she’s a hard worker.”

Steinbronn described herself as “friendly and open,” and said she prioritizes “polite and efficient service.”

“I think she’ll be a good leader,” Scott said. “I think she’ll be very approachable and accessible, and she’ll be willing to listen to her team. I think she’s looking forward to a different dynamic with a smaller agency, and I think that will be a key to her approach. I believe that she will be very direct and fair, make sure that we’re doing the right thing and make important decisions in a decisive way. I have the sense that the (officers), although they will miss Ron, are looking forward to working with her.”

Davis believes Steinbronn will succeed in her new role.

“With her, what you see is what you get. She’s very comfortable in her own skin, and brings some humanity to the work,” he said. “She doesn’t think she’ll come to Washougal and turn it into Portland. She’s going to adapt her style to be effective there as opposed to changing the environment to suit her needs. I think Washougal (leaders) will be pretty pleased with their choice.”

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