Ken Summers making progress with struggling department

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Ken Summers, former interim and now permanent Cornelius police chief, plans to make the department more citizen-friendly.Ken Summers has new orders for the door-banging, gun-wielding, law-enforcing officers he supervises at the Cornelius Police Department:

Roll down your patrol-car windows and wave.

And while you’re at it, why not stop and play basketball with kids in the park?

“We are going to change the reputation of the Cornelius Police Department,” said the retired Yamhill County undersheriff, who has also dropped the “quota” approach to traffic tickets in his bid to make the department more respected and citizen-friendly.

Summers was appointed permanent police chief Monday, July 1, seven months after coming out of retirement to lead the department on an interim basis. At that time, the department had suffered blows to its image and its dynamics from internal accusations of lying and corruption. Lawsuits and threatened lawsuits both inside and outside the department heightened the tension.

But Summers has made progress in rejuvenating the department and improving its image among Cornelius citizens, according to his officers.

Some of his efforts are concrete and highly visible, such as cleaning up city ordinances and enforcing city codes and paperwork.

“He is trying to make the city more livable,” said Sgt. Brian Schmid.

By ensuring property owners fill out the vacant-house registration form, for example, Summers can ensure they tend to their property’s lawn, trash and general upkeep, Schmid said.

Summers also adjusted the ordinance that let cars thast were “being worked on” sit on the street for long periods of time as long as they “can’t be seen,” said Schmid. That ordinance had led to numerous junkers beneath dirty tarps. But by requiring that the tarp has to specifically fit the car, Summers cleared up the eyesores.

He also added a three-day limit before abandoned cars are towed.

On a separate front, Summers wants his department to better reflect its community. Of the 12 current officers, there are no women and only one Spanish speaker — in a community of more than 50 percent Latinos.

“Everyone is struggling to find a Latino officer,” said Summers, who in the meantime is recruiting Spanish-speaking interns, such as Cornelius resident Jesse Rojo, to help bridge the language gap.

Officers say much of Summers’ success comes from an open and inclusive management style.

The first thing he changed when he took on the interim position was the department’s mission statement, said Lt. Joe Nofsinger.

“All officers were able to pitch in what they thought,” said Nofsinger, who liked that it was “not just an administrative decision. The department as a whole decided what was important to them and are held accountable by that.”

On one level, Summers’ approach reflects his religious faith. A member of the Rock Point Community Church in Newberg, Summers said he believes in “servant leadership.”

“It’s not about us. It’s not about our personal goals. We are here to serve the community,” he said.

Nofsinger has seen that spiritual approach in action when Summers faced discipline from the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training for misconduct related to sale of a trailer.

The state board’s investigation and discipline was more public than it would have been had Summers stayed in retirement.

“He could have easily walked away, but he put his problems aside and focused on improving the department,” said Nofsinger, who appreciated how Summers supported him during his own struggle against accusations of corruption.

“It’s refreshing to have someone of such strong faith,” Nofsinger said.

After what Summers describes as “neglect” under now-retired chief Paul Rubenstein, he’s been trying to boost his officers’ confidence.

If officers make mistakes, Schmid said, Summers talks with them about how they could improve and gives them the chance to do better.

He also trusts them to make their own decisions.

“If it’s legal, moral and ethical, do it,” Summers said he tells his officers. “The more they aren’t micromanaged, the more I’ve seen them flourish.”

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