Joseph “Joe” Clark, currently deputy police chief of the Norfolk Police Department in Norfolk, Virginia, talks to Bainbridge residents at last week’s meet-and-greet. (Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review)

Joseph “Joe” Clark, currently deputy police chief of the Norfolk Police Department in Norfolk, Virginia, talks to Bainbridge residents at last week’s meet-and-greet. (Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review)

Island citizenry, cops meet and greet trio of police chief finalists

First dates can be made less awkward if they’re group events.

It’s true in matters of romance, and, apparently, city government as well.

Residents of Bainbridge Island had just such a communal chance, an informal, en masse get-to-know-you session at which to be wooed and wowed by the three finalists for police chief Wednesday, Nov. 20 at city hall.

Bainbridge Island city officials had announced the trio — Joseph “Joe” Clark, currently deputy police chief of the Norfolk Police Department in Norfolk, Virginia; Carl Nielsen, police chief for Centralia; and David “Dave” Westrick, the police chief of Hollister, California — and the event the week before.

The city’s consultant firm, Strategic Government Resources — who also performed the city’s previous police chief search and the city manager search, as well as finding several city department managers — combed a field of about three dozen applicants from 20 different states to find the ultimate three, a particularly vigorous search that, according to Bainbridge Island City Manager Morgan Smith, cost about $25,000.

Officials expect to hire one of them by the end of the year.

“I have every expectation that we’ll select one of these gentlemen,” Smith said.

“We’re really looking for somebody who recognizes that things are gong well, but also why they’re going well. And what you need to continue to invest to continue to have that outcome.”

Relocation to Bainbridge specifically, Smith said, would not be a mandatory part of the job offer, by law.

“We are not legally able to require residency for any city employees,” she said. “However, I do think it’s a very important thing when it can be the case that the police chief lives in the community. That’s a preference of mine, that they live here, but we’re not able to require it.”

Smith told the assembled crowd it was “a very different time and place for our community” than when the last police chief search was done, which resulted in the hiring of former chief Matthew Hamner.

The search process itself, she added, was “really pretty robust,” and second only to one conducted by another particularly choosy Northwest locale.

“The only search they’ve done recently where there was more to it, more bells and whistles, was Portland, which apparently was off the charts,” Smith said. “So we have a bar that we can look to, but this feels just right.”

But, even as they were seeing new faces for the first time, islanders were preparing to say goodbye to someone more familiar.

Unexpectedly, the public introduction of the finalists came in the immediate wake of Interim Police Chief Jeff Horn’s stepping down. Horn, who joined the Bainbridge department as deputy chief in 2014 and became acting chief after the departure of Hamner for Banning, California, submitted his resignation letter Friday, Nov. 15, just days after the finalists were initially announced. It was accepted by Smith two days before the meet-and-greet.

Horn’s last day of employment with the city will be Dec. 5, and Smith immediately installed Deputy Chief Scott Weiss as acting police chief following Horn’s resignation, saying he will serve as interim chief until a replacement is hired.

Last Wednesday’s public event, the first time any of the three finalists had visited the island in an official capacity, according to Smith, began immediately after a similar meeting was held just for police department staff members, which was reportedly attended by every member of the department (except three officers, who were on patrol).

Then, before a group of about 55 people, including residents, several police officers, city staffers, and at least three city council members, the city manager explained the selection process, what had already happened and what was still to come and stressed the importance of community involvement before passing the microphone to each of the three finalists in turn to introduce themselves and speak about their respective backgrounds, education and experience, and policing philosophies.

Two of the three men have already given notice at their previous departments or are publicly known to have been actively seeking a new job, according to news reports.

The first finalist to speak was Clark, of Norfolk.

Bainbridge officials said Clark has more than 33 years of law enforcement experience and has worked for the Norfolk Police Department since 1986. He became deputy chief in Norfolk in 2017.

In February 2018 it was reported by Wavy.com’s Taylor O’Bier that Clark was one of the five final candidates for the police chief position in Charleston, South Carolina.

Clark began his remarks by pointing out he’d traveled the furthest of the three to visit Bainbridge.

“I view policing from a public service perspective,” Clark said. “We’re there to serve the community and I believe every member of the department should feel the same way. We’re there to serve the community and meet their needs. Every neighborhood is different, every community is different, and we have to work with each one of those individual communities to provide them with the best service possible.”

Clark also mentioned that in his education (a master’s in education from Old Dominion University and a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Saint Leo University) he’d specifically focused on counseling, something which was very important to him.

“Counseling is really about communication,” he said. “It’s about understanding the perspective of others and so that degree has really helped me policing. With so many challenges facing our communities, with mental health and substance abuse, just listening and understanding the perspective of others kind of helps us guide the police department so we can serve the community.”

The second finalist to speak was Nielsen, of Centralia, who quickly pointed out his pilgrimage to Bainbridge was the shortest of the three.

Bainbridge officials said Nielsen has more than 34 years of law enforcement experience and has been the police chief in Centralia since 2015.

He previously served as a captain and a lieutenant in the Turlock Police Department in Turlock, California from 2007 to 2015.

Nielsen stressed his desire to maintain strong relationships between the police department and the community.

“You’ll hear about community policing, about partnerships with the community, but even more important is developing relationships within the community,” Nielsen said.

“That’s what’s so attractive to me about Bainbridge,” he added. “You already have those relationships developed with this police department and I see that as a magical fit for me coming in to lead this organization.”

Nielsen said he hoped to be the last outside-hire chief for the foreseeable future, and pledged to focus on career development training for island officers looking to advance.

“My passion has been for 30 years training, training and developing people,” he said. “I still love those aha moments in developing staff and that’s what I’ve enjoyed doing in the city of Centralia, is developing staff, developing future leaders and putting those leaders in place to be able to take my place.”

Finally, Westrick, of Hollister, California, spoke.

On Nov. 1, it was reported by San Benito Live that Westrick had already announced his imminent departure, at the end of the year, from the Hollister department, despite having a contract that goes through Nov. 19, 2021.

He reportedly made the announcement via social media, saying, “It’s just a personal decision. You want to leave while you’re happy and you’re content.”

Westrick has more than 28 years of law enforcement experience, according to Bainbridge city officials, and has been with the Hollister Police Department in since 2003. He became the city’s police chief in 2013.

“I really do cherish community policing and engagement with the community,” Westrick said, adding, “If you Google me you can see proof of that — don’t do that now.”

Westrick also said he intended to focus on developing in-house talent in the Bainbridge department, and said he intended no drastic changes to the way things are being done.

“[It’s] a beautiful city and I don’t think anything is broken,” he said. “A lot of cities have little things that are easy to pick up on, but here, not so much at all; well-run city. A great place to live, work and have your kids go to school; great schools. So really my mission if I’m selected and the sun shines on me … I would seek to enhance those things that are already great about Bainbridge.”

After the men had finished, the crowd dispersed for one-on-ones with each candidate, in smaller informal conversations.

Common concerns raised by attendees included issues of policing minority communities, dealing with instances of mental illness-related calls, managing the island’s homeless population, community engagement, and also officer training and career development.

The selection process would continue, Smith told last Wednesday’s crowd, the very next day as the finalists sat for interviews with multiple hiring boards — and herself, too.

“[On Nov. 21] we actually have five interview panels,” she explained. “One of those is me, an individual interview with me, the city manager.”

Additional panels include a law enforcement panel, including senior police personnel from other Kitsap jurisdictions; an intergovernmental panel, including leaders from of the island park district and fire department, school superintendent and county mental health leaders; a community panel, to include representatives from Bainbridge Youth Services, the senior center, Helpline House, Housing Resources Bainbridge and the school district’s multicultural advisory council; and a “city leadership team,” including multiple COBI department directors.

Input from as many perspectives as possible is extremely beneficial, the city manager said.

Ultimately, however, the official decision is Smith’s alone to make.

“I’m really pleased with our three finalists,” Smith said. “One of the points of why we designed such a robust process is so that we can have the benefit of a number of different perspectives. Four panels plus the interview with me, plus feedback from the department, plus whatever the community has to offer — these all kind of go into the mix and in that way, while it’s a decision that I make, I make it with the benefit of a lot of information from a lot of different people.”

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