Washougal residents should weigh in on police chief decision

Washougal seems to have attracted four very strong candidates in its hunt for the city’s next chief of police.

At a reception held Tuesday night at the Black Pearl on the Columbia, community members had a chance to meet the potential chiefs and learn more about their history in law enforcement and community leadership.

Two of the candidates — La Center Police Chief Marc Denney and Portland Police Bureau Commander Wendi Steinbronn — are better-known quantities for Camas-Washougal residents, given the fact that local media has covered the actions of their police departments for several years.

In fact, this editor covered Denney for years while working as a reporter for the Battle Ground Reflector newspaper and the online ClarkCountyToday.

The La Center chief often went to bat for his officers and didn’t mind challenging higher-ups to secure a more stable future for that Clark County city’s police force.

In 2015, for instance, Denney went before the La Center City Council and told them his department could no longer function as a 24-7 police force if the councilors couldn’t fund a vacant police officer position.

The La Center officers had been working 12-hour shifts, collecting overtime and going without vacation days or backup to staff the department 24-7 with only five officers and one sergeant.

“You’re running my staff ragged,” Denney told the councilors. “I’m telling you what I need. I can’t make any more cuts in my department. I just can’t do it.”

La Center’s leaders took Denney’s words to heart and, after much discussion about the city’s pending financial troubles, voted 5-0 to fund the position using the city’s reserve funds.

The vote was a testament to the councilors’ respect and support for Denney, who was known for his volunteerism in the local schools and with La Center-area charitable groups.

Likewise, Steinbronn has shown her community building skills and leadership style during her 25-year tenure with the Portland Police Bureau, for which she has served as a sergeant on a neighborhood response team and, most recently, as a police commander in North Portland.

In August, Steinbronn acted as the Portland Police Bureau’s crowd management incident commander at a rally between the far-right, white nationalist Proud Boys and antifascist groups in downtown Portland.

The Aug. 17 demonstration, which garnered national attention, was expected to bring mass violence to the streets of Portland. Before the event, Steinbronn put out a message to both groups: “The safety of all involved is the highest priority,” Steinbronn said in a video posted to several media sites. “This includes participants, non-participants and the officers who are trying to facilitate a peaceful assembly.”

Steinbronn and the more than 1,000 Portland police officers who responded to the event were able to keep the crowds apart and prevent major violence.

The other two police chief candidates are from outside the area, so their histories aren’t as well known. Both, however, have a unique depth of knowledge and skills they could bring to Washougal’s police department.

Charles Goeken, a police commander from California, also knows the Washougal City Council’s side of things, having served as a planning commissioner, city councilor and mayor in Waterford, California. And Steve Taylor, an assistant police chief from Searcy, Arkansas, also is a licensed attorney.

Washougal’s city manager, David Scott, will make the final call on the new chief, and said he plans to take into account the community’s perceptions and concerns before making his decision.

We don’t envy Scott’s job. He has a tough choice to make as all four candidates seem, on paper, like they would be effective leaders.

Hopefully, Scott will take into account the fact that policing in Washougal is often a matter of community building and empathizing with those whose voices are rarely heard.

When we reported on the homelessness issue in Camas and Washougal in early 2018, for instance, Washougal Police Commander Allen Cook was in tune with that city’s homeless population and the challenges people living on the streets and in their cars faced.

“Homelessness and mental health is not a law enforcement issue,” Cook told the Post-Record. “We’re not a social service agency, we’re law enforcement. And it’s not illegal to be homeless or to have mental illness.”

He added that Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell had been researching day storage options for the city’s unhoused individuals and families, to help people living on the streets safely store their possessions during the daytime.

Scott should make certain the city’s next police chief has the same level of compassion and understanding for Washougal’s less fortunate residents.

What characteristics would you like to see in Washougal’s next police chief? Are there concerns you hope the next chief will address in Washougal? Washougal community members should weigh in on this decision.

To let Scott know how you feel about the police chief decision, email him at David.Scott@cityofwashougal.us or call 360-835-8501, ext. 102.

~ Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor