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Hire of interim police chief is a smart move

The saga of the Prineville Police Department took a left turn Monday with the surprising — to your local newspaper anyway — swearing in of a new interim chief.

The city gave no public hint that it was looking at someone outside the current department to come in and "stabilize" it, so to speak. On Monday, however, the city hired Les Stiles, the former Deschutes County Sheriff, to become the interim police chief for the Prineville department.

The whiplash of the news still lingers, but at first glance, it seems an astute move by city government. The department has been at near crisis level since former chief Eric Bush was put on leave last September. In late July, following a long investigation by the Local Government Personnel Institute, the city decided to fire Bush. Bush, in turn, has filed a $2.5 million wrongful termination lawsuit.

The focus of the discontent the city had with Bush was a question of his hours worked, and a view that Bush falsified his reported hours. Bush contends he can prove he did not. The city also had issues on how Bush handled his job as chief, and it claims he grew more and more disconnected as his military duties with the National Guard grew more time consuming.

The LGPI investigation also showed something else: that the department personnel was split on Bush, and apparently divided within itself. Several members of the department had severely negative opinions on how Bush operated as chief, while others came to his defense, indicating that the probe was merely a "witch hunt" aimed at removing Bush because others in the department "wanted his job."

While we can think of no glaring problems the department endured during the 10-plus months Bush was on paid leave — and through the interim leadership of Cpt. Michael Boyd — we also know that a house divided, so to speak, cannot stand.

Stiles, who led the much larger Deschutes County law enforcement department, should have no trouble stepping into the requirements of the Prineville head job. But his experience that may be even more to the point of what Prineville department needs has come since leaving as sheriff in 2007.

Stiles established a company to help law enforcement organizations run better, to review and improve their practices. He will be putting that expertise to work under his arrangement with the city, handling chief duties and reviewing the current practices of the department. He will also help the city prepare for the hiring of the next full time chief.

During this nearly year-long float in the ocean of instability and rumor, Monday's hiring of Stiles feels like a rescue ship of sorts — by all early accounts, a smart move.



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