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Staffing shortage, leadership void among new chief's top concerns after two weeks on job

TIDINGS PHOTOS: PATRICK MALEE - West Linn Police Chief Terry Kruger answered questions during a town hall meeting that was attended by more than 20 residents. On several occasions during a one-hour town hall meeting June 20, West Linn Police Chief Terry Kruger qualified his answers to questions with a reminder that he'd been on the job for less than two full weeks — and thus still had plenty to learn.

But one thing was clear from the beginning as Kruger — a 27-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau — assumed his new role: his leadership would fill a significant void.

"(Officers) have been devoid of leadership for quite some time actually — longer than (former police chief) Terry (Timeus) has been gone," Kruger said in his opening remarks. "(Interim chief Neil Hennelly) kept the train on the tracks, but there's a lot. ... Every time I kick over a rock, I discover something else and it's like, 'Really?' I'm kind of shocked.

"They need to be brought into the modern era in a lot of areas."

But the good news, Kruger said, was that the officers were enthusiastic, well-intentioned and appeared to have broad support from the community.

"The people that are here, they love it here and they're proud to be here," Kruger said. "They want this place to grow, and they want it to be strong, and they too have felt the lack of leadership. And they are so looking for direction right now."

They're also looking for some backup. Staffing levels proved to be a key theme during the meeting, which was organized by the City as an opportunity for the community to meet its new chief. Due to several departures, transfers and promotions, WLPD has holes to fill at lieutenant, captain and sergeant positions, as well as standard patrol officer roles.

"We need to get fleshed out, staffing wise," Kruger said. "We are having to meet minimums each night, each shift, on the streets, and we are burning up the overtime like crazy."

Kruger said if evaluations go well, he could have the captain and lieutenant positions filled within the next month.Resident Kathy Selvaggio asks a question during the town hall meeting.

"And then we're looking at sergeants, and we have to see what kind of internal candidates we have there, what kind of strengths and weaknesses we might have, and determine if we have to go outside (for hires)," Kruger said.

About 20 community members attended the town hall meeting and their questions touched on a number of topics both national and local. One of the first questions concerned WLPD's policies for working with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Kruger said WLPD follows policies outlined by the national company Lexipol, but he wasn't sure how cooperation with ICE was addressed in those policies.

"I have not looked at where we sit, on day 13 (of my employment), as far as our policies regarding that," Kruger said, promising to follow up with the resident. "I can tell you that, as a police officer, you don't make any stops based on someone's nationality, by law. If you are investigating someone for a crime and you end up arresting them, that is the time — once they're arrested for a crime — that you could inquire as to (immigration) status. I don't think we're doing it at that level, but I can check."

In a similar vein, resident and West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community (WLAIC) member Kathy Selvaggio asked if WLPD might consider participating in a program similar to Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism.

"Sometime in the next year, we hope to have some opportunity for an event where we can exchange best practices around how police, school officials, city government and citizens respond to incidents of discrimination and bias," Selvaggio said. "We have a lot of anecdotal reports about the problem of driving-while-not-white in West Linn."

Kruger said he'd met with outgoing Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson, who told him about a workshop he and several other LOPD officers attended at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles earlier this year.

"I've attended," Kruger said. "It's a pretty amazing program and it yanks your eyes open. So I talked to (Johnson) about what he did to get funding to send those people down there. ... We hope to march down a similar path."

Kruger was also asked about traffic issues on city streets near Interstate 205, and noted that while it was certainly an ongoing issue, the ultimate authority to make changes lay with local planners and elected officials. Other topics included fraud crimes against elders (Kruger hoped to improve training and the department's relationship with the Adult Community Center) and diversity within the force.

"I think there's room to improve that," Kruger said. "We're competing with all the other agencies, and they're all looking for the same candidates, so it's a challenge. But it's certainly on my radar."

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