The city of Astoria is taking exactly the right strategic steps to fix the beleaguered police department after the sudden retirement of Police Chief Brad Johnston.
Johnston’s Aug. 2 retirement came after the findings of a Portland labor attorney’s independent assessment of the department ordered by City Manager Brett Estes. The assessment found the department was at the “point of a crisis” and fraught with leadership failures and staffing shortages that created unsustainable overtime and deep morale problems.
The assessment also found Johnston exercised “extraordinarily poor judgment” that resulted in a violation of city travel and ethics policies. Estes said Johnston was aware of the findings prior to his retirement, and that his decision to leave was “made in his own volition.”
Instead of simply hiring a new chief, the city, through Estes, is taking laudable steps that should provide both immediate leadership and time to strategically address other issues the inquiry raised.
The city’s first move was to tap the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police interim leadership assistance program and hire Geoff Spalding, who retired as chief of the Beaverton Police Department in 2016 and had 31 years of experience with the Fullerton Police Department in California, to lead the department on an interim basis until a permanent hire is made. Estes said the hiring process could take up to six months. Meanwhile, the well-qualified Spalding will begin work Aug. 28.
The city is already addressing staffing issues in Astoria 911 Dispatch, which Johnston also supervised. City councilors approved the hiring of an operations supervisor for the center, which it did not have before.
Once Spalding begins, he will have time to address other staffing issues and rebuild relationships and confidence among the officers. He’ll also be able to work with staff in identifying the qualities they desire in a new chief, which Estes can then use in the hiring process.
While it’s not an immediate fix, it’s the smart fix for the department, one that should provide long-term benefits.