When Anne Kirkpatrick was interviewed to be Spokane’s police chief, she was asked how long the city could expect her to stay.
Her answer was frank: about five years.
Nearly five years later, that position hasn’t changed. Kirkpatrick confirmed Tuesday that she has suggested Mayor Mary Verner start thinking about finding a replacement. Kirkpatrick, however, stressed that she hasn’t picked a departure date and would be open to serving during a transition “if I’m in the good graces of the city, the department and the community.
“We need to start looking at 2012 and beyond,” Kirkpatrick said. “I plan to run hard through the finish line, wherever it is.”
Kirkpatrick, 51, will mark her fifth year as chief in September, though she likely will serve beyond her anniversary date.
“I don’t think change agents can be 10-year veterans,” Kirkpatrick said.
The news doesn’t surprise many at City Hall. Kirkpatrick has applied for openings in Seattle and San Francisco in recent years.
“It’s not a secret, but it’s not like she’s announced it,” said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, the department’s spokeswoman. “She has told the department and the city throughout the years, ‘I’m a five-year chief.’ ”
City Administrator Ted Danek said Kirkpatrick continues to enjoy the support of city leadership.
“The mayor and I are aware in a generic sense of her plan, but not down to the specifics. What we’re talking about is the chief’s life plans,” Danek said. “I wish she would never leave.”
Kirkpatrick said she doesn’t “have any job offers in front of me.”
After a nationwide search, then-Mayor Dennis Hession picked Kirkpatrick in 2006 as the first woman to serve as Spokane’s chief. She has enjoyed strong support from elected leaders who credit her for working to improve the credibility of the force. But the relationship between her and Spokane Police Guild leaders in recent years has gone from prickly to hostile.
“She’s definitely tried to bring more accountability to the force and to hold officers’ feet to the fire,” said Councilman Bob Apple. “She’s been a fine leader and I think it’s been tough for her because of the budget-cutting and trying to make the best out of an extremely bad budget situation.”
Guild President Ernie Wuthrich declined to comment on the possibility of Kirkpatrick leaving. Last year, the majority of guild members who cast ballots supported a no-confidence resolution against Kirkpatrick and Assistant Chief Jim Nicks. Guild leaders at first announced that a majority of its members voted for the resolution – a claim that proved to be false. Kirkpatrick denounced union leaders as purposely trying to derail her application to become Seattle’s chief.
Kirkpatrick, who holds a law degree from Seattle University, came to Spokane from Federal Way, where she was picked as chief in 2001. Before that, she was the police chief in Ellensburg.
In her first year on the job in Spokane she fired a rookie officer for violating what Kirkpatrick called her cardinal rule: “If you lie, you die.”
She’s issued several other high-profile disciplinary actions since.
She also has backed some officers accused of wrongdoing.
Kirkpatrick came to Spokane soon after the controversial in-custody death of Otto Zehm. Kirkpatrick has defended the officers involved in the incident, including Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.
“Based on all the information and evidence I have reviewed, I have determined that Officer Karl Thompson acted consistent with the law,” she said in 2009.
Federal prosecutors, however, disagreed; later in 2009 Thompson was charged with violating the civil rights of Zehm, a mentally ill Spokane man who worked as a janitor, and for lying about the confrontation.