Four vie for Washougal police chief

Law enforcement veterans from La Center, Portland Police Bureau, California and Arkansas in running

Wendi Steinbronn (middle), one of four finalists for the city of Washougal's police chief position, talks with attendees at a reception Sept. 17 at the Black Pearl on the Columbia in Washougal. Steinbronn is a Camas resident.

Steve Taylor (right), one of four finalists for the city of Washougal's police chief position, talks with attendees, including Washougal mayor Molly Coston, at a reception Sept. 17 at the Black Pearl on the Columbia in Washougal.

Charles Goeken (middle), one of four finalists for the city of Washougal's police chief position, talks with attendees at a reception Sept. 17 at the Black Pearl on the Columbia in Washougal.

Marc Denney (middle), one of four finalists for the city of Washougal's police chief position, talks with attendees at a reception Sept. 17 at the Black Pearl on the Columbia in Washougal.

Washougal leaders will soon decide which of their four candidates will be named the city’s next chief of police.

Community members had an opportunity to meet the four candidates – La Center Police Chief Marc Denney; Charles Goeken, a police captain and former mayor from California; Portland police commander and Camas resident Wendi Steinbronn; and Steve Taylor, an assistant police chief from Arkansas – Tuesday evening at a reception held at the Black Pearl on the Columbia in Washougal.

“They have strong law enforcement backgrounds. They all have pretty solid and broad experience coming up through the ranks,” said Washougal City Manager David Scott. “In this role, integrity is so important, and I think they all have that. (They’re) pretty approachable. They have the ability to communicate with diverse audiences, which is really important.”

They also have a wide range of differences, Scott noted.

“It’s a diverse group,” he said. “We’ve got someone with a (law degree). We’ve got someone who’s worked in the largest city in the region for a long time. We’ve got someone who’s worked in a sheriff’s office and in a small-town police department, and we’ve got somebody who has experience as a police chief, council member and mayor. Each of them is very diverse in what they bring to the table. I feel very fortunate and blessed that we had the quality of candidates that we had.”

Current Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell, who started his career with the Washougal Police Department in 1996 and has served as chief since 2009, announced his November retirement earlier this year.

The city advertised the police chief position in July, received nine applications and selected five finalists with the assistance of Mike Painter of the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. One of the candidates withdrew from consideration before Tuesday’s event introducing the potential chiefs to the public.

“In the big picture, it’s been a great process,” Scott said, “and it’s going to be a tough decision.”

Scott will choose the next chief, perhaps as early as next week.

First, the city manager plans to consider feedback from the community, confer with Painter and Washougal’s human resources director and have more intensive interviews with the city’s top choices.

“I’ll have to do that soon,” Scott said. “Usually you move pretty quick on these things. But (the job offer) is contingent on a background check, and that can take up to a month.”

City officials would like the new chief to start his or her position in December.

Following is more information about each of the four Washougal police chief candidates:

Marc Denney

Denney has led the La Center Police Department as its chief since 2013.

Before coming to La Center, he worked for 23 years for the Cochise County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Office, holding leadership positions in a variety of roles.

Denney holds a master’s degree in justice administration and earned his bachelor’s degree from Wayland Baptist University in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He graduated from the FBI National Academy Associates, a non-profit international organization of senior law enforcement professionals, in 2012.

Denney has become a part of the small Clark County town where he works since being named chief, and has served as president and vice president of the La Center Lions Club for the past several years.

“We have a great community vibe in La Center, and I think Washougal has got that same vibe,” Denney said Tuesday. “I’ve got the credentials, obviously, but I what I really enjoy is mingling with people and being part of a community. In La Center I got into volunteerism and got into the community really quick. That’s what I’d like to do in Washougal, too – get involved. It’s the best way to get to know people.”

Charles Goeken

Goeken has worked for 25 years for the city of Manteca, California, a city of approximately 79,000 residents. For the last 10 years he has held the position of captain, serving as the commander of the operations and service divisions for the city’s police department.

Goeken earned his master’s degree in criminal justice from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of New York Regents College in Albany, New York.

He previously served as a planning commissioner, council member and mayor for the city of Waterford, California, where he currently resides.

Before starting his law enforcement career, Goeken served in the United States Navy for eight years.

“I was actually stationed in Bremerton, (Washington). My wife, Jennifer, and I would love to come back to the Northwest,” Goeken said Tuesday. “We’ve been involved in the city we live in, a small city in California of 8,000 (people). We love being in a small community. We love meeting the people. She coached cheerleading, and I coached city league basketball and soccer, and (I was involved) in Lions Club. I like going to the store and seeing people I know, seeing kids who graduated with my kids.”

Wendi Steinbronn

Steinbronn, a Camas resident since 2004, has worked for more than 25 years for the Portland Police Bureau and has served as commander of the Bureau’s North Precinct since June 2018.

Prior to that, Steinbronn served as an officer for nearly 12 years, as a sergeant on the Bureau’s Neighborhood Response Team for seven years and as a lieutenant with the Bureau’s investigations and services branch for nearly six years.

Steinbronn earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Portland State University.

Most recently, Steinbronn acted as the crowd management incident commander for the Aug. 17 demonstrations between the Proud Boys, an alt-right organization that promotes male chauvinism and white nationalism, and antifascist groups. The rallies, expected to bring violence to Portland, ended somewhat peacefully after Portland police managed to keep the two groups separated throughout the demonstration.

“In my current role I have a lot of interactions with community members as well as important stakeholders, and I look forward to taking the knowledge that I’ve been able to learn the last 26 years in Portland and bringing it here to more of an intimate, personal setting. That’s kind of what I’m looking for,” Steinbronn said Tuesday. “I enjoy my job now. However, I’m looking for an opportunity, and I definitely would love to be (Washougal’s) next chief of police.”

Steve Taylor

Taylor has worked for the city of Searcy, Arkansas, since 2004 and as the city’s assistant chief of police since 2015.

If Searcy seems like a familiar name, many residents may recall that the city recently competed against Camas for a featured spot on the “Small Business Revolution – Main Street” reality show and $500,000 business makeover. Searcy, a city of approximately 24,000 residents, won that competition and will be featured in the show’s fourth season.

Before coming to Searcy, Taylor worked for 14 years as a police officer in Michigan.

He earned his bachelor’s degree as well as his Juris Doctor (law) degree from the University of Arkansas.

“I’m a licensed attorney in Arkansas. But, that being said, my passion is law enforcement,” Taylor said Tuesday. “I tell my friends that if I had to get a ‘real’ job, I’d start crying. It’s what I love. This is a great community, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to be the next police chief here.”