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Kelso Police Chief Darr Kirk

Darr Kirk, standing in front of the Kelso Police Station, was named as the new police chief Friday. 

Kelso has a new police chief: longtime police department captain Darr Kirk.

Kirk will officially lead the agency starting Saturday, but he has served as interim chief since former Chief Andy Hamilton retired in April.

He was the only candidate considered for the position, City Manager Steve Taylor said Friday. As part of the hiring process, Kirk met with a panel of city management, local police officers, community members and other public safety agency representatives.

Kirk, 50, began his 26-year career with the Kelso Police Department in 1993. He has served in nearly every law enforcement role in the department, including patrol officer, detective for the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force, Kelso High School resource officer and patrol sergeant, according to a press release.

He has been a captain for the past decade and served as a SWAT commander and unarmed force instructor.

“Chief Kirk’s breadth of experience within law enforcement and exemplary service within the department has thoroughly prepared him to succeed in this new role,” Taylor said in the press release. “Darr will carry on the department’s legacy of quality service and community involvement and maintain the culture of professionalism within the ranks of our public safety officers.”

When he started as a police officer, Kirk said he didn’t expect to become chief one day. But during the last 10 years as a captain, he’s filled in as interim chief when Hamilton was on vacation, at training or sick.

“We try to do a good job of succession planning in all levels (and) prepare our folks for that next step,” Kirk said. “Andy Hamilton did a great job giving me the opportunities I needed to prepare myself for this.”

The first step as police chief, Kirk said, will be to find a new captain to replace himself. That will likely come from among the sergeants, so the department will also have to backfill that leadership position. There is also a second vacancy in the police department from another officer retiring last month.

Kirk said he learned a lot from Hamilton about the importance of being involved and accessible in the community.

“Those are important things as a leader in a municipal government. (Hamilton) for sure led by example by doing those things,” he said.

Hamilton could still end up as Kirk’s boss. Hamilton announced his retirement on April 30, but he indicated that he was interested in the Kelso city manager position that Taylor will vacate on June 14. Taylor is stepping down to become the Cowlitz PUD director of regulatory and regional affairs. The city has started advertising the position regionally.

As police chief, Kirk said it will be important to prepare the organization for unforeseen challenges.

“That’s always the goal: to prepare the organization to meet challenges that no one has even thought of yet. That starts with putting the community and organization first and making sure they know their value. That’s where we get our authority: from the community. Without their support, it’s tough to meet those challenges,” he said.

His annual salary will be about $124,800, which is almost exactly the same salary budgeted for Hamilton.

Kirk graduated from Camas High School in 1987 and attended Clark College for a year before graduating from Washington State University in 1992 with a degree in criminal justice.

He lives in Kelso with his wife of 20 years, Melissa, and their two children, 17-year-old Kahler and 15-year-old Riley.

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