Chief McAlpine reflects on first year on duty
Marking her one-year anniversary as Tigard's police chief, Kathy McAlpine sums up her first 12 months with a simple observation: "It's been an amazing year."
McAlpine was sworn in last April 11 following a nationwide search that brought the former assistant police chief of the Tacoma Police Department to Tigard. She jumped quickly into the fray, saying a year later she has been able to talk to the community on a myriad of subjects ranging from social issues to the opioid crisis.
"It's gone fast and what I'd say, there are a lot of accomplishments," she said during a recent interview at the Tigard Police Department.
During that time, she has been able to improve communication with her officers on a one-on-one basis, asking them everything from what they value most to what are the challenges facing the department and how should they be addressed. She called those conversations insightful and valuable.
After months of collecting in-depth statistics, looking at police response times, reading through employee surveys and more, McAlpine said she's getting ready to soon roll out a strategic plan that will guide the department over the next three to five years, highlighting seven department priorities.
But before releasing the details, McAlpine says she wants to run it by her officers first, "so they have buy in," which Alpine says is important because one of her main priorities since she arrived has been to have a strong relationship with Tigard's police union.
"We meet every two weeks to make sure nothing is festering," she noted.
Suffice to say, McAlpine said the strategic plan will cover such issues as how to use resources, technology and communication, and professionalizing the department to yet another level.
During her first year, McAlpine has held meetings with the Latino and faith-based communities to discuss the whole idea of sanctuary cities (the limiting of local governments to enforce federal immigration laws), letting them know what the laws in the state are and in general to dispel fears and to create trust.
Over the last year, McAlpine said she has pushed for a greater emphasis on community policing and the notion of moving away from a warrior mentality to that of a guardian in the community.
Along the way, McAlpine said she has been trying to understand the community and its issues better, and has been tracking mental health and homelessness issues to determine how much time the department spends on those types of calls.
What McAlpine has discovered is that those issues generate an incredibly high number of calls, citing that in February alone, one officer documented 120 hours working with those issues.
Regarding the city's transient population, she said she thinks their presence is a sign of the times. She said she's heard from some homeless residents that Tigard is more welcoming than other nearby large cities and they feel safer here as well, noting that many people treat them a little more compassionately than in other places.
So was there a highlight from past year?"It's a constant highlight," she said, noting that she's pleased with the conversations she's had in the community and with officers. "I am thankful that the area (police) chiefs are very welcoming."
Still, she and her department have had to deal with unfortunate circumstances over the last year involving two officers.
The first involved Officer Matt Barbee, who was seriously injured Dec. 14 when he was rear-ended by a vehicle after pulling to the side of Highway 26 where he was attending to mechanical problems.
"He's doing remarkably well," McAlpine said, noting that it's too early to tell if he'll return to law enforcement. "It is nothing short of a miracle."
More recently, another officer, Ron Wommack, was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants in Clackamas County while off duty. (The Oregonian reported it was his second DUII citation.) McAlpine said Wommack has since resigned from the force, saying he had issues he had to deal with.
Meanwhile, the chief pointed out that, while officers do their best while responding to calls, the public isn't always aware of where an officer may have come from before responding to a citizen's call. That means that he or she may have come from dealing with the death of a baby or some other tragic call and may not be as empathic to the next call, which likely is less tragic than that.
But for the most part, McAlpine pointed out, "We're very much a customer service organization where we try to get it right."
Now the city's next big hurdle will be getting an operating and capital levy passed that focuses heavily on police parks and library issues (See editorial, Page A8). According to levy information, the city's population has increased by 9.7 percent over the last decade at a time when the Tigard Police Department went from 74 to 72 sworn officers. At any given moment, there are three officers on duty who have to patrol 157 miles of city streets and roads.
McAlpine said she considers the proposed levy a public safety levy, noting that she knows that residents want to see a clean park with no needles as well as seeing improved law enforcement services.
If passed, the levy would provide $500,000 that would go to maintaining the current level of police services while another $800,000 would be used to hire eight new officer; two to handle traffic-related issues and six assigned to general patrol. Those added positions are designed to reduce response times around the city to under 6 minutes.
McAlpine said if the levy fails, it will mean the city has to make some hard decisions, which could include cutting into school resource officers in Tigard schools. There are currently four officers in the program.
Asked if she thinks the levy will pass, McAlpine said she takes nothing for granted, noting she's sympathetic to the public when it comes to asking for increasing their taxes.
On a more positive note, McAlpine has also had a chance to thank the public for its help in stepping in to help officers in trouble over the last several months.
The first incident occurred in February when an officer was trying to subdue a combative library patron and a Lake Oswego man stepped in, aiding the officer in getting the man under control until backup arrived.
The other incident occurred recently at a TriMet bus stop when an officer tried to make an arrest but the suspect was resisting.
"We had another individual jump in and help," she said, noting that the person helping didn't have the closest relationship with officers. "Yet he did not hesitate to jump in and help the officer."
She said such actions are appreciated.
In her spare time, McAlpine likes to exercise and enjoy her time as a Tigard resident.
"I try to work out each day so I try to take advantage of the trails," she said. In addition, she will put together jigsaw puzzles or read a James Patterson novel when off duty.
Meanwhile, City Manager Marty Wine said the city is glad to have McAlpine on board and is pleased with her first year on the job.
"Tigard was looking for a police chief who would enthusiastically become part of the community, build trust in the department, and instill values related to data-driven and well-managed police work," said Wine. "Chief McAlpine has brought great energy and commitment to Tigard to achieve all of these things, and she is a good fit for our community."
The head of the 60-member Tigard Police Officers Association, the union representing officers, said they are extremely happy with McAlpine's performance.
"We're super impressed with her," said Detective Jeffrey Hering, Tigard police union president, who sat on a panel involved with hiring McAlpine. "She's compassionate and caring."
Overall, Hering said, she's exceeded expectations.