UPDATE | Bainbridge officials sad to see police chief depart for new job

Disappointment, but no surprise.

Bainbridge city officials said this week they were not shocked that Police Chief Matthew Hamner will step down from his position as the island’s top cop to take a job in California.

Hamner, who just signed a new employment contract with the city of Bainbridge Island last May, has been hired to be the new police chief for the city of Banning.

The Banning City Council approved a three-year contract for Hamner at its meeting Tuesday.

Hamner has already signed the new employment agreement.

Hamner is following former Bainbridge city manager Doug Schulze to the town of roughly 30,000 in Riverside County, Calif. Schulze was hired as Banning’s new city manager last year, and last fall, Schulze asked Hamner if he was interested in taking the police chief job in Banning.

Bainbridge Councilman Matthew Tirman said he wasn’t surprised at the chief’s departure, just a little bit disappointed.

Still, Tirman said he saw the opportunity that Hamner faces in Banning, of being able to put another struggling police department on the right path.

“I don’t begrudge him or hold anything against him. You got to do what’s right for your career and your family.”

And Hamner is leaving a legacy.

“We’ve got a department that’s as strong as it’s ever been,” Tirman said.

Councilman Joe Deets said he was also sorry the chief was going.

“That would be Bainbridge’s loss. It really would be,” Deets said. “Frankly, to be honest, I really don’t know the reason why he is leaving.”

“He has done excellent work for the community,” Deets said of Hamner. “I’ve really enjoyed working with him.”

Deets said it is going to be a challenge for Bainbridge to find someone to replace him.

Added Councilman Ron Peltier: “I have the highest regard for Matt Hamner, will miss him, and wish him all the best in Banning.”

Under the terms of the contract with Banning, Hamner will get an annual salary of $190,857. The salary amounts to a $14,000 increase over what the city of Banning previously paid for the previous top step in the chief’s compensation amount.

Hamner’s first day as Banning’s new chief is Feb. 11.

The move isn’t a complete surprise; Hamner announced in November that he had a potential job prospect in Banning, known as “Stagecoach Town, USA,” given Schulze’s move to California.

Hamner has been tight-lipped since then about where he planned to be in 2019, however.

Even so, it wasn’t the first time that a cloud of doubt has hung over Hamner’s future with the city of Bainbridge. Last May, Hamner acknowledged that he was a candidate for the police chief job for the University of Colorado Police Department in Boulder, Colorado.

Hamner was a finalist for that position, and visited Boulder for a job interview in May.

Later, a retired police chief who was assisting the University of Colorado with its search for a new police chief visited Bainbridge to vet Hamner for the job.

The timing was awkward, as the city council had already approved a new contract for Hamner. Following news of his interest in the Boulder job, however, the Bainbridge city council voted to increase the base salary in the week’s old agreement from $158,000 to $170,000.

By most accounts, Hamner has enjoyed widespread support on Bainbridge since joining the island’s police force in 2013. He worked to rebuild trust with a community that had lost faith in its police department, and the leadership guiding it. The Bainbridge Island Police Department was seen an agency in crisis; split internally by bad blood between the officers’ union and management, and the department’s reputation was in tatters following the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill Bainbridge man during a 911 call that led to a federal civil rights trial that resulted in a $1 million judgment against the city.

Though morale and the department’s reputation has improved much over the past five years, Hamner has been unable to clear some of the hurdles in the path of local police.

Citizens rejected a $15 million bond measure for a new police station in November 2015, and planning for a possible public safety building and municipal court on land next to New Brooklyn Road fell through in 2017. City officials are now looking at buying the Harrison Medical Center building and converting the facility into a police station/municipal court.

Hamner told the Review in November he was being recruited by his former boss to take over the police department in Banning.

Hamner met with Banning city officials for a round of interviews on Nov. 16, and was one of three candidates interviewed.

Schulze told reporters late last year that he hoped to have a new chief chosen by January.

Bainbridge officials have not yet announced how the search for a new chief will be conducted.

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