SEASIDE - Bob Gross, the new police chief in Seaside, said he has received a very warm welcome from the department and the community. Six weeks into the job, he is having fun getting to know residents, learning the city and learning how the department functions.
"Life is good," he said.
Gross heads a department of 20 officers, two reserves and eight dispatchers.
"We're all pleased," dispatcher Valerie Mannix said. "He's a good guy." Other dispatchers praised Gross for keeping them informed of his whereabouts. He is open with the press, readily granting interviews, providing press releases and taking responsibility for answering media questions after a recent shooting incident.
Gross replaced Chief Ken Almberg, who retired in January rather than be fired. "There was definitely a morale problem when I got here," Gross said. "One of my goals is to work with everybody in the department to create a team atmosphere." He wants to make it fun to come to work. He said it helps that he is starting fresh, without the knowledge of previous incidents.
He has surveyed the employees and asked for their input. He is planning a department head meeting to talk about the results of the survey, his expectations for employees and theirs for him. His basic expectations are that officers and dispatchers treat members of the community and each other with dignity and respect and work ahead of time to meet community needs. He will provide training, share his experiences, mentor the sergeants and officers and generally get them the tools they need to do their jobs better.
Captured shooting suspectGross helped apprehend a shooting suspect recently, and said his experience in the Kennewick Police Department helped him know what to do. "I saw more than my share of shooting incidents similar to what occurred here in Seaside," he said. He praised his officers for their work arresting the suspect and putting together the evidence against him.
He said police officers have to deal with the unknown. "If you're not apprehensive in doing some of these things, then you're not as careful as you should be," he said. To ensure the safety of his officers and the public, Gross has to make sure the officers get plenty of training. He cited the Columbine High School massacre, where police were criticized for waiting too long to respond, and said good training gives officers the ability and confidence to take action right away.
"It's never pleasant to send anyone into situations where there's a chance they could get hurt," he said. "Sometimes the hardest part is not being able to go in yourself because you are the guy in charge."
Gross wants to have officers participate for a few months in investigations with Sgt. Steve Barnett or with the Clatsop County Inter-Agency Narcotics Team. He said that will teach officers what physical evidence they need to get, what is needed for criminal cases and ways to improve their interview or interrogation skills. The department will take advantage of training opportunities like sexual assault response and investigation.
"It's something that most officers are very uncomfortable with, dealing with the victim of a sexual assault," Gross said. Training helps.
Gross displayed his operational plans for the volleyball tournament and Hood to Coast, which included the schedule of events, the location of medical response teams and where liquor was being served. That information was shared with officers on duty for those events. The after-action report told Gross what to improve next year, such as trash collection and better security. He said there was alcohol in places it should not have been allowed and a lot of criminal mischief.
After the department head meeting, Gross will begin his strategic planning for the next 12 to 18 months, and then the long-term planning for the next 10 years. The department may need a new police station, communication equipment or vehicles by then.
Gross started in police work with an idealistic desire to help people and the community. Over time, that has been tempered with knowledge that he must first find out what the community wants from its police force. He takes time to walk through downtown every Friday morning and meet with locals, many of whom said they would like to see more police presence downtown.
"For the most part, I'm hearing good things that every time they've needed an officer, there's been one," he said.
Partnerships in viewGross is considering several partnerships. One business in town may pay for less intimidating uniforms for community work. Police may become involved with Sunset Parks and Recreation to help kids see the police as fun people as well as enforcers. Officers can help the schools teach kids to be safe.
But he is still learning what activities are available so the police can add to them, keep the events pleasant for residents and help make people want to return to Seaside. "Learning something every day is what keeps me going, and its fun," he said.