The public had its one and only chance to meet Bremerton’s five finalists to be the city’s next police chief Monday night.
The finalists — which include a sheriff, a former sheriff, two Washington State Patrol captains and a former police chief — had a chance to mingle with the crowd throughout the evening. At one point, all five men were called to the front of the council chambers at the Norm Dicks Government Center and spoke briefly about their careers and shared their most embarrassing moment as a police officer.
The finalists include former King County Sheriff Steven Strachan, Jefferson County Sheriff Anthony Hernandez, Washington State Patrol Capt. Robert Johnson, former Santa Paula, Calif. Chief Stephen MacKinnon and WSP Capt. Stephen Sutton. Three of the men — Hernandez, Johnson and Sutton — have Bremerton connections. MacKinnon and Sutton are also finalists for the Poulsbo police chief job.
The city held internal panels Tuesday that were closed to the public. Mayor Patty Lent was expected to use feedback from those panels and comment cards from Monday night to make her selection for the city’s new chief. The city council will have final approval, which could come within the next few weeks.
Strachan spoke first Monday night. In addition to being a former sheriff, Strachan said he was a chief in Kent, a city council member and state legislator. He said those experiences give “me a good perspective about the importance of connecting communities, public safety and business development all those things that matter.”
Strachan shared a story about a routine traffic stop in the middle of the day where he encountered a distraught woman. In an effort to break the tension, Strachan noticed the woman’s purse and asked her if it was a Coach bag. “She looked up at me through her tears and said, ‘Are you the fashion police?’ And I had no idea what to say.”
Hernandez began his career with the U.S. Marshal Service before returning to Bremerton to work with the Department of Defense as a federal police officer. He became a Bremerton reserve officer in the 1990s for about three years. From there, he worked in Pierce and Kitsap counties as a crisis counselor for children in a lock-down facility. After serving in various command staff capacities in Jefferson County, he became sheriff.
“Some of you might ask, ‘Why would an incumbent sheriff want to come to the City of Bremerton?’ Simple. This is my hometown. This is where I want to be. One thing I always told myself was if I had an opportunity to come back to Bremerton I’d take that opportunity. So, that’s why I’m here tonight, because I want to be your chief.”
Hernandez’ embarrassing story unfolded when he got a cup of coffee and forgot to turn his radio on. A short while later, his sheriff and undersheriff rolled up alongside of him and asked him if he was having a good time. “Yeah, I’m having a great time. Why?” Hernandez said. “He goes, because why is your sheriff and undersheriff having to go to a burglary in progress while you sit here and drink coffee?’ Later on they told me, I bet that tightened him up.”
Johnson, who lives in Bremerton, went to high school in North Mason, went to college in Yakima and then went to work at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office. He moved to Seattle, went back to school and worked as a corrections officer in King County. He joined the Bremerton police in 1977 before joining the state patrol eight years later.
“Honestly, the reason I left Bremerton to work at the state patrol was because at the time the state patrol had airplanes and Bremerton didn’t,” Johnson joked.
Johnson eventually became district commander in Bremerton, overseeing WSP activity from Canada to Oregon. His most embarrassing moment caem when he landed for lunch and hit a hanger with the inside of the plane’s wing and then had to call in to Olympia.
“That was the longest flight in the world from the Okanogan airport to Olympia airport knowing what was in store when I got there,” he said. “They didn’t let me down.”
McKinnon started his career in New England before working his way west to Arizona. From there, he got involved in international policing with the U.S. State Department and United Nations working in Kosovo and Haiti. When he came back to the states he went to work as the chief of police in Santa Paula, Calif. where he was eventually terminated.
McKinnon’s most embarrassing moment came while he was the deputy chief of police on Martha’s Vineyard. McKinnon said that Billy Joel and Christy Brinkley had just gotten married when they visited downtown. He said some of his officers had pushed back a crowd, but Brinkley didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave.
“I asked her, ‘Is there anything I can help you with,’” McKinnon recalled. Brinkley responded by telling him, “I would really like to go with my husband, but he’s been pushed back by your guys.”
Sutton’s career began in Bremerton almost 25 years ago to the day. Highlights from his career with the state patrol include working to create El Protector, an Hispanic community outreach program, and working with the then newly created Homeland Security Department to create a state task force.
Sutton’s embarrassing anecdote came early in his career while working as a dispatcher. He somehow managed to call out an armed robbery in progress for what was actually routine shoplifting. Officers eventually located the suspects and held them at gunpoint.
“They had actually stolen a couple batteries from Radio Shack … I didn’t have much of a rear end after that,” he said.