Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick confirmed Friday that she will not wait for a new chief to be hired and will leave Jan. 2.
Kirkpatrick has said as recently as Nov. 4 that she would stay through the first few months of the year as the city searched for a new chief.
But a Nov. 6 letter to Mayor Mary Verner announced a departure date of Jan. 2.
“My family’s a priority, and I’m at a great age for new things,” Kirkpatrick, 52, said in an interview Friday.
It’s been a difficult time for Kirkpatrick’s department. A jury on Nov. 2 convicted Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of violating the civil rights of Otto Zehm. On Nov. 4, the city was slapped with a $722,000 verdict for the way Kirkpatrick and the department disciplined Detective Jay Mehring, who was acquitted in October 2008 of allegations that he threatened to kill his wife during a messy divorce. The verdict includes $250,000 in punitive damages against Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick insisted Friday that recent turmoil in the department after Thompson’s conviction and the Mehring verdict did not affect her decision to leave sooner.
“I think that the top of the year is a better time for transition,” she said. “This should not be a surprise to anyone. We’ve been talking about it for quite some time.”
Kirkpatrick said she’s had no conversations with Spokane Mayor-elect David Condon about her Jan. 2 departure.
Condon campaign spokesman Tyler Whitney confirmed Condon has not spoken recently with Kirkpatrick. Condon urged that a new chief not be selected before he takes office.
“With regard to the city’s current need for a new police chief, I believe that a national search conducted at this time won’t yield highly qualified candidates,” Condon said in a news release. “Qualified candidates will want to know that they have the support of the new mayor. I want all options on the table as we work not only to find a new chief, but reform the department as a whole.”
Assistant Chief Jim Nicks, who has said he’ll retire when Kirkpatrick leaves, is on medical leave, and Maj. Scott Stephens has been appointed acting assistant chief.
Kirkpatrick, who has applied for chief jobs in Seattle and San Francisco, emphasized just two months ago that she was moving on, not retiring. She acknowledged Friday that she’s since changed her mind.
“I thought I would just resign, but when you sit down and start calculating your pension and things of that nature it makes a lot of sense for me right now,” Kirkpatrick said. “I can always come out of retirement.”
But she said she doesn’t expect to do so anytime soon.
“I have nothing lined up. I have no application anywhere,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m a young woman and I have new chapters I want to explore.”
Kirkpatrick, who grew up in Tennessee, said she hopes to move back to the South where her family lives.
“I’ve been away from them for almost 30 years. I’ve been out here alone,” said Kirkpatrick, who is not married and has no children. “My parents are getting older, and I have a lovely family, and I like to be around them. It’s just an exciting time for me.”
Kirkpatrick, a lawyer, joined the city in September 2006 after a national search. She previously was chief of police in Federal Way and Ellensburg, Wash.
Kirkpatrick says she has vacations scheduled but expects to work up until Jan. 2.
News of Kirkpatrick’s pending departure was reported in March, though she said when hired that she planned to stay about five years.
In a statement released by the city Friday, Kirkpatrick said, “I have been honored to serve as the chief of police, and I thank SPD’s employees, the city’s elected leadership, and most importantly, the citizens for this opportunity.”
Kirkpatrick declined to say whether she believes Thompson acted appropriately in the Zehm case and said she’ll discuss the topic in depth before she leaves.
“I’m going to make my remarks at a time that is appropriate, and today is not that time,” Kirkpatrick said. “Today is really more about my announcement of the date. Everybody’s been waiting for the date.”
When asked if the department is making changes in light of department trainers testifying in court that they supported force used by Thompson that jurors later ruled was criminal, Kirkpatrick said “some things are being addressed.”
“I’m not ready to comment on what those are right now,” she said.
“I inherited Otto Zehm, and I said I would carry it, and I did carry it,” she continued. “I said I would stay to see that come to closure. I’m just doing what I said I would do.”