SEASIDE - Robert "Bob" Gross, the new police chief in Seaside, wants to hear what residents want from their police department.
Gross told the Chamber of Commerce Friday that he plans to ride along with his officers, walk the streets and visit local businesses to meet people.
"I don't know what the community wants without listening to the community," he said. Gross, who started Aug. 1, said while the priorities of the community may not be the same as those of the police department or police chief, they are just as important if not more so.
After a wide regional search, Gross was selected to replace Ken Almberg, who left in January amid controversy over his lack of leadership and his failure to deal with staff problems.
Gross said he has high expectations for the police officers and dispatchers.
"Those who aren't willing to adhere to those expectations are going to go," he said. "I will hold people accountable, but at the same time, people who are willing to work will get rewarded." He said his strength is in giving his employees mentoring, training and other tools needed to be better police officers, dispatchers and members of the community.
"I demand that each and every one of them treat everyone in the community with dignity and respect," he said. Gross said he will encourage respect within the police department to foster respect for those outside the department.
Audience member Ed Thatcher said he hoped Gross could decrease the high rate of turnover in the department. He said members of the community have difficulties developing working relationships with the police officers when those officers are constantly changing.
Gross accepts the department is a training ground for officers who want to go on to other agencies, but said making the job fun will allow Seaside to keep quality officers. "Money's fine and even advancement's fine, but if you're not having fun, why would you want to go to work?" he said.
Gross said he hopes the city manager will have to struggle to pick his replacement - because by then so many Seaside officers will be qualified for the job. Gross said he will work to empower his officers and help them grow. He likes to see his employees find a niche where they work on issues important to them, like child safety or a countywide cleanup.
Ideas Gross has to improve Seaside's law enforcement include the National Night Out, a yearly anti-crime night that he has participated in while in Reedsport. He wants to bring in new partnerships with other groups and create more programs directed toward youth.
"I just can't not get involved in the community; it's just my nature," he said. He said he is very interested in supporting the Special Olympics, and that Seaside officers will be involved in the events. "You think times are tough, but if you go and watch these Special Olympians and what they do every day, it'll put things in perspective," he said.
Thatcher asked if the police's "militant attitude" during spring break was necessary, adding that it scares away tourists. Gross answered that he maintained tight security in the years immediately following riots in his area, then eased off as soon as possible. He said police officers can work to blend in, and that he supports video cameras as a means of identifying people who commit crimes. Gross said cameras are a deterrent to young lawbreakers, who know their pictures could be put on TV to help in an identification. He said he knows of a training program for the "non-confrontational way to get things done."
Gross said there is no quick solution to the methamphetamine problem, and that the police department will fight against it for many years. He said educating the public, especially children, will help reduce the problem, as will making the pseudoephedrine in cold medicines harder to buy.
Gross said reducing marijuana use may help. He said a high percentage of users of 'hard' drugs have said they started with marijuana. "Marijuana's just as dangerous as any other drug out there," he said.
He praised Seaside's tsunami plan. As interim city manager, the decision was his whether to turn on tsunami sirens in Reedsport during the June 14 tsunami scare. He did not turn them on, and received criticism from the local media and the public. But he said he did not regret his decision.
Gross started in law enforcement in his home town of Kennewick, Wash. in 1974, following four years in the Navy. He spent 27 years in the Kennewick Police Department, working every position up to assistant chief.
"I decided I wanted to lead my own agency," Gross said. He was chief of police in Reedsport for four years, where he also served as interim city manager. He knew he wanted to lead a department about the size of Seaside, which has 19 officers. He said with a smaller department than the bustling Kennewick, he has more of a chance to interact with his employees.
Gross received enthusiastic applause at the chamber. "Bob is the first person from the police department who ever came to us and asked what our plans were for volleyball," said Jeanne Clark, the interim executive director. The yearly Volleyball Tournament starts Friday.
Gross said the more information he has, the better the police department and the chamber can coordinate security and first-aid efforts. He'd like to be able to contact other agencies like the Chamber and have them handle some situations, instead of sending police officers to deal with them.
Gross and his wife, Joy, have three grown children who live in Washington state, and look forward to living closer to them. They plan to continue living in Seaside after Bob Gross retires.
The chief will be sworn in tonight at the Seaside City Council meeting at 7 p.m. at City Hall at 989 Broadway Drive.