Kelso's new police captain, Rich Fletcher, has "unquestionable" integrity and is well-respected in the local law enforcement community, Chief Darr Kirk told the City Council Tuesday night.
After he was sworn-in at the start of the council meeting, Fletcher received a standing ovation from the packed audience, which included a large number of people from other local agencies.
Fletcher, who recently played a pivotal role in the response to the shooting of Cowlitz County Sheriff's Deputy Justin DeRosier, will be the department's second in command.
Fletcher, 46, is a 24-year veteran with the department and has served in nearly every role — from patrolman to detective to SWAT operator and field training officer. He was hired by a third party assessment firm that put him through a whole day of testing, Kirk said.
Fletcher grew up in Longview and attended Mark Morris High School, Lower Columbia College and Portland State University. He was hired with the Kelso Police Department before he finished his PSU degree, which he completed during his first six months with the department. He now lives in Kelso.
"My grandfather was with the Longview Police Department. I don’t know that that necessarily influenced my decision, but it was always of interest to me," Fletcher said in an interview Wednesday.
Most recently, Fletcher was a sergeant with the department, which he said was his favorite role so far. He also enjoyed his role on the regional SWAT team and at first was hesitant to give that up.
As captain, Fletcher said he will hold a command role with the SWAT team and won't be out in the field as much.
But he will have the opportunity to make some changes within the department and community, he said. KPD is in the early stages of possibly adding a police dog K9 unit. And the department is working with the City Council to add safety features at City Hall to protect employees.
"We're a new administration here. The chief is new (to his role). I’m new. We really have a unique opportunity to make some changes our community hasn’t seen before," Fletcher said.
He will replace Kirk, who was promoted to chief in June after former Chief Andy Hamilton announced his retirement. (Hamilton was recently hired as the Kelso city manager and will likely begin in October.)
After the Tuesday meeting, Kirk told The Daily News that Fletcher has been in command roles before and has had “amazing results.”
“He’s one of the hardest working people that I know. When he brings a problem, he always brings a solution and offers to do the work,” Kirk said.
Fletcher said he leads by example. He said it's important to show subordinates that he is willing to do the work he is asking them to do.
"On the other side, I do not like to be hovering and micromanag(ing)," he said. "Basically, I give them the strength and courage to do their job without having to worry about me telling them what to do."
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In April, Fletcher found himself near the center of the community's biggest story this year: He was one of the two Kelso officers who encountered and shot Brian Butts, who was armed and suspected of killing Deputy DeRosier. Both officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Fletcher said it was the second time he's gone through that experience.
"It's not something you would wish on anyone," he said. "Unfortunately, there’s going to be another one. It’s not if, it's when. ... I think my experiences will definitely help me help (another officer) recover and get back to work and be a productive member of the department again."
In both situations, Fletcher said he was confident he made the right decision and that helped him get through the incidents "completely fine." But each officer has his or her own process for healing, he said.
"We all know it’s a part of our job. It's something we may have to do someday," he said. "Everyone handles it differently. Some people never recover."
In honor of DeRosier, Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman presented a framed drawing of the life-long Kelso resident to the Kelso City Council on Tuesday night. Thurman said he is presenting the image to local law enforcement agencies in thanks for helping cover shifts for deputies in the wake of the shooting. He specifically thanked Chief Kirk, who worked for about 40 hours straight during the investigation.
“This token is thanks from the sheriff’s office to the Kelso Police Department. We hope it will hang in your office as a reminder of Justin’s sacrifice in service and everything you guys did for us during that time,” Thurman said.
Also during the Tuesday meeting, the council essentially scolded a council member for disclosing information about discussions during an executive session, which is not allowed in the city’s charter.
While no names or specifics were given, the action likely referred to Councilwoman Kimberly Lefebvre telling The Daily News that the council was privately divided about who to hire as city manager.
“While it’s serious that we maintain the sanctity of executive session and the few opportunities given to speak in that manner, I would like to specifically address this one by moving that we subsequently authorize the inadvertent disclosure of what might have happened in executive session,” Councilman David Futcher said.
“While this blesses any inadvertent disclosures that already occurred, it does not authorize further ones,” he added.
The council voted unanimously in favor.
In other business, the council:
- Approved a collective bargaining agreement with the public works American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It provides for a 2.5 percent pay hike annually for three years starting this year.
- Approved a $93,600 contract with Clark and Sons Excavating, Inc., to remove and replace six driveway culverts along Carroll Road.
- Approved about $7,400 in change orders for the Tam O’Shanter Park improvement project to pay for extra work due to poor soil conditions and additional concrete work. The changes bring the total contract to $1.82 million.
- Appointed Michael Lee from Kelso Best Western to the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.
- Approved Stewart Feil, with Hannigan Law Office, to become Kelso’s prosecutor.
- Heard a presentation on possible changes to Kelso’s stormwater rate design. The council didn’t take any action and will likely discuss it further during a future meeting.