OLYMPIA - A nationwide search for qualified candidates to replace Olympia Police Chief Gary Michel, who announced his retirement Thursday, could take up to six months, according to City Manager Steve Hall.
Michel, 55, announced to his staff Thursday that he will retire effective Sept. 30. Michel has served as Olympia’s police chief since September 1997. He began his 34-year law enforcement career in 1976 with the Snohomish Police Department, and before taking the job as Olympia’s police chief, he worked for the department in Salem, Ore., for 20 years.
In an interview Thursday, Michel said he has accomplished everything he wanted to at the Olympia Police Department. It seemed like a good time to leave, he said, because the department is “in a good place” with the police and other city departments getting ready to move into the new Olympia City Hall on Fourth Avenue in January 2011.
“It’s been a tremendous experience for me, and I’ve been honored to have the job and work with so many wonderful people,” Michel said.
Michel said he is particularly pleased with the department’s strides in working with the mentally ill, and offering training to local law enforcement officers in crisis intervention through Behavioral Health Resources.
Hall said Thursday that Michel deserves much of the credit for making the new City Hall a reality. He added that Michel’s leadership skills will be missed, but Michel has earned the right to retire “when and how” he wants to.
“I’m delighted for Gary,” Hall said Thursday. He added, “he will be very difficult to replace.”
The authority for hiring a new police chief rests solely with Hall – and the City Council does not have a formal vote to approve or ratify the city’s police chief, Hall said. But Hall added that even before he casts a net for job applicants, he will seek guidance from council members, the police guild and residents to help determine what sort of characteristics and skills the city will be looking for in its new chief.
“We’re going to take our time and get the police chief that Olympia deserves,” Hall said.
The job also will be open to qualified internal candidates, Hall said. It pays $140,455.95 a year.
Olympia Mayor Doug Mah said Thursday that he is confident Hall will ensure there is a “transparent and open process” that includes input from both the community and police.
Mah said Michel “was definitely the right chief for the city when we were transitioning to community-oriented policing.” Mah said Olympia’s community-oriented policing model relies on proactive police officers who work on problem-solving in Olympia’ neighborhoods.
During an interview Thursday, Mah discussed some of the qualities he’d like to see in Michel’s replacement as chief. Mah said he’s interested in having chief candidates with excellent leadership skills and the ability to work with multiple jurisdictions. Lastly, Mah said, he’d like to see a chief with experience in dealing with the kind of crowd control and protests that Olympia has had in its city limits during the past 10 years.
“You wouldn’t want to do any on-the-job training in that regard,” he said.
The Olympia Police Department employs about 68 officers – slightly fewer than when Michel started as chief. He attributed the slight decrease to recent budget cuts.
Olympia Police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad agreed with city officials that Michel will be missed.
“I think he’s probably one of the most ethically sound persons I’ve ever met in law enforcement,” Bjornstad said. “Everyone benefits from that, the people that work here and the people in the community.”
Michel said he will continue to live in the area. He said he is in good health and has no immediate plans other than to enjoy his retirement. He added that he does not plan on taking any future jobs in law enforcement.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org