By Stefanie Donahue
Despite the temporary nature of his position, interim police chief Michael Knapp is due to leave a lasting impression on the Blaine Police Department. With the city just weeks away from making a permanent hire, Knapp outlined the changes he’s made during his tenure.
“I have found the community to be unusually welcoming and friendly,” Knapp said. “They enjoy a sense of community, which [I believe] is becoming increasingly rare in our country.”
Knapp was appointed as interim chief of the police department last November, the day after long-time Blaine chief of police Mike Haslip retired. The position was posed to last about six months while the city looked for a permanent candidate.
To move the search along, Blaine City Council voted on March 26 to hire Issaquah recruiting firm, Prothman Company, for assistance. The recruiting services will cost the city approximately $17,500.
“To appoint the highest qualified permanent police chief, I determined the most effective method was to engage a professional recruiting consultant,” said city manager Dave Wilbrecht in a staff report to city council. “In the recent past, the city successfully used professional recruiters for the city manager in 2013, the public works director in 2012 and the finance director in 2010.”
Wilbrecht approached Knapp with the job opportunity about one month prior to Haslip retiring last year, Knapp said. Intrigued, he came out of retirement to accept the offer. From 2005 to 2016, Knapp was the chief of police in Ferndale.
Previously, he worked at other police departments in California. Knapp began his career as a special agent at the FBI in 1971 and finished as deputy chief of the bureau’s senior executive service in Washington, D.C. in 1997. He’s a former member of the California Bar Association and a U.S. Army veteran.
“I think there are many benefits of having an interim manager in a department director position when the previous director has been in the position for many years,” Wilbrecht said in an email. “Most importantly, they can get to know the department and help with the selection process for a new chief by making recommendations based on direct experience with the department which helps to identify the skills and background needed for the new chief.”
During the interim, Knapp said he was asked by the city to conduct an analysis of the Blaine Police Department’s policies and practices. Making changes, he said, “goes hand in glove” per the requirements of the position.
From the start, restructuring the department – comprised of 11 commissioned officers and two full-time administrative staff – was a priority, Knapp said.
He established a hierarchy between operational staff members, promoting a handful of existing patrol officers to either lieutenant or sergeant positions that are interim. “That means they last for two years and they will become permanent automatically,” Knapp said. “I didn’t want to deprive the new chief of his discretion in making appointments.”
Ryan King was the first to receive a promotion in November following an exam and is now the department’s sole lieutenant. Two others will be appointed to sergeant positions soon, Knapp said.
“The purpose was to give some organizational structure to this department,” he said.
Under the new hierarchy, the department has two sergeants and one lieutenant in addition to patrol officers. Eventually, Knapp wants the city to approve funding for a third sergeant.
In addition to restructuring, long-time employee Lisa Moeller resigned in February.
Following a recommendation from Knapp, calls for police from Blaine will no longer be dispatched through a U.S. Border Patrol dispatch center in Blaine starting October 1. Instead, they’ll be dispatched through What-Comm 911, a dispatch center located in Bellingham.
The city of Lynden will also switch to the new dispatch system soon, Knapp said. Currently, the U.S. Border Patrol dispatch center in Blaine provides free dispatch services to both cities.
All 911 calls in Blaine and the rest of Whatcom County connect to What-Comm 911, where a dispatcher determines if a caller needs police, fire or medical assistance. Calls that require a police presence in Blaine, Lynden and Sumas are transferred to the U.S. Border Patrol dispatch center in Blaine.
“That takes seconds,” Knapp said. “In an emergency, seconds count.”
Moving forward, What-Comm 911 will facilitate the dispatch of law enforcement to Blaine. Knapp said the switch will cost the city approximately $60,000 to $70,000 per year.
In addition to his years of law enforcement experience, Wilbrecht said Knapp was a prime candidate for the interim position because of his knowledge of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
The association provides management consulting and other technical assistance to law enforcement agencies through its Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program (LEMAP). Under Knapp’s direction, the city paid $5,000 to receive the service.
“It provides the guide post for change,” Knapp said about the LEMAP report. “It gives you some direction to prioritize your efforts and I’ve done this in every department I’ve been in.”
As part of the program, law enforcement personnel from the Bellingham Police Department, Lake Stevens Police Department and Kent Police Department, among others, carefully reviewed the policies and practices of the Blaine Police Department based on documentation provided by Knapp. Consultants from the organization also spent two days in town prior to making their report.
The draft report is on Knapp’s desk, awaiting review.
“What they’re doing is giving you their opinion based on their experience and understanding of current and best practices [and] how you as a chief might implement recommended change,” Knapp said, adding, “It’s up to the chief whether he follows the recommendations or not.”
Moving forward, Knapp will take a close look at the draft, make revisions and return it. He said the final LEMAP report will become available 30 days later.
“With that report, his knowledge and experts in police chief recruiting, we will produce a very accurate job description, job announcement and recruitment process for a new police chief with skills and background to implement the recommendations,” Wilbrecht said in an email.
He added, “Job applicants will have a solid understanding of the department’s and city’s needs and expectations for the new chief. I’m confident we will be able to attract a very high quality list of applicants for the position and am looking forward to filling the position.”
Search for a permanent chief
The city released a request for proposals for recruitment services to hire a permanent police chief to oversee the department on February 7. Three firms returned proposals and Prothman Company was chosen due to its experience working with cities in Washington, according to a city staff report.
“Prothman Company has been working with Washington cities and counties on the recruitment of public sector executives since 2001,” read the report. “During that time, they have conducted more than 500 recruitment and interim placements.”
Knapp worked with Prothman Company to recruit the Ferndale Police Department’s new police chief. A company representative will visit next week to begin the process. Knapp said the representative will talk with the police department, city council, chamber of commerce and business owners to learn what their expectations are for the chief.
“I am sure he would find it useful to understand what the community expects,” Knapp said. “Once that process is done, the advertisement goes out nationwide.” After the candidates are narrowed down, local residents will likely get the chance to meet them at a public reception.