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City staff, members of public welcome Tualatin's new police chief

Bill Steele: 'Everything we do ... is going to be based on how we treat people.'

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jeneane Dunmyer meets new Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele during a public meet-and-greet at the Juanita Pohl Center.Bill Steele started work as Tualatin's police chief on July 5, and just six days into his new job, he was already the man of the hour at a gathering in his honor.

A few dozen people milled through the lobby and dining area of the Juanita Pohl Center at a welcoming reception as Steele shook hands, and visitors — many of them city employees and elected officials — introduced themselves. Steele also spoke with The Times about coming to Tualatin and his plans as chief.

“It's a great department. It's a great community,” Steele said. “And you know, I'm really looking forward to just getting out and really learning more about the community and getting to meet the members that live here.”

Steele oversees 47 employees at the Tualatin Police Department, and right now, he is just working on getting to know people and adjusting to his new role.

“You know, it's pretty early for me to figure out goals,” he said. “At this point, it's really getting a feel for the community and making sure we're meeting our expectations. And then I'm sure that as we move forward over the next couple months, we'll be able to figure out things we might need to do a little bit different, or a little bit better, but that's going to take some talking about.”

Steele previously worked at the Washington County Sheriff's Office for about 20 years, holding the rank of chief deputy. He also served several months as the interim police chief in Forest Grove in 2012, on special assignment from the Sheriff's Office as the city searched for a permanent chief.

Working in Forest Grove “was a great experience,” said Steele, who lives in Sherwood. “It gave me an insight into really how a city government structure works, compared to a county government, and a little bit of an insight into how a community not too much smaller than Tualatin can come together, and really how a police department serves that kind of community.”

“He's local, has a very good sense of the regional players and the local issues,” said City Manager Sherilyn Lombos, who hired Steele. “He comes from an organization that has a similar culture, in terms of community service and collaboration and community-building and relationship-building.”

Lombos also praised Steele's “humble, low-key, servant-leadership approach.”

Steele was officially introduced to the Tualatin City Council at its evening meeting. Lombos told councilors she believes the new chief will be a “perfect match” for Tualatin.

Mayor Lou Ogden also welcomed Steele to Tualatin. Although the city “searched high and low” to find a police chief, Ogden said, he suggested it was “not a coincidence” that someone local was ultimately selected.

“I think what is appealing to me is … (Tualatin police) have really built this community trust environment, where our folks are respected, admired, appreciated, thanked and respected for the authority that they need to maintain, and yet do that in a very caring, community-minded way,” Ogden said. “So we look forward to you building on that and expanding that embracing, if you will, of the community, as the police being not just there to serve, but intrinsically neighbors to everyone who lives here.”

Ogden also mentioned “the unfortunate and difficult happenings going across this country,” an apparent allusion to a string of deadly incidents last week involving law enforcement: fatal shootings of two black men in separate incidents by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then the slayings of five police officers by a gunman, who was later killed in a standoff with police, during a demonstration in Texas. Black Lives Matter, Don't Shoot Portland and other groups advocating police reforms have mounted protests in Portland and many other American cities this month in response to the officer-involved shootings.

Tualatin does not have the kind of tensions between police and the community that exist in other cities, Ogden said, but he noted that “lightning can strike anywhere.”

Steele thanked Ogden and Lombos for their remarks and pledged a community-focused attitude from his Tualatin Police Department.

“Everything we do at the department is going to be based on how we treat people, and that's where it all starts from,” Steele said.

Steele succeeds Kent Barker, who retired after almost 13 years as Tualatin's police chief last month.

Barker was first hired by the city in October 2003. He introduced Steele as the incoming chief, preempting the city's official announcement, at his retirement party on June 24.

Part of Barker's legacy as police chief is the Tualatin Community Police Foundation, a nonprofit group set up last year — with City Councilor Joelle Davis as its president — to support the Tualatin Police Department.

Davis and other foundation members presented a $3,400 check to Steele for the purchase of armor plates for the department at the beginning of Monday's reception.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with information on the Tualatin Community Police Foundation. Jaime Valdez contributed to this report.

By Mark Miller
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