Richard Cortese, the new police chief of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, was officially sworn in as chief on the evening of July 7.
In a police tradition, Officer Kyle Kolling from the Clyde Hill Police Department was on hand at White Salmon's City Council meeting to pin the chief's badge on Cortese's uniform.
Cortese served as a police lieutenant in Clyde Hill, a community near Bellevue, before taking the chief's job in White Salmon.
Cortese's parents, who live in Camas, also attended the council meeting, along with other family members, to see him take the oath of office.
Cortese, hired to replace longtime chief Ned Kindler, who retired at the end of May, started in White Salmon on June 21.
"I'm trying to get to know all of the routines here, and I've been trying to learn the paperwork. It has been a process," Cortese said. "I'm having a chance to see a lot of people I knew from before and meeting all kinds of new people."
"I'm very pleased. It's been tough for the Police Department going through this process," said White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones. "I think he's going to do a great job."
Cortese has been working as much as 11 or 12 hours a day, four days a week, until he locates a place to live. For now, he's staying with friends in the local area during his days on duty.
The new chief praised his predecessor for building a strong police force.
"Ned did a good job, and as a result of him the department is well respected in the area," Cortese explained. "That's not a battle we have to try to overcome. We have qualified officers. That to me is the key."
In fact, neighboring law enforcement agencies appear to have their eye on officers serving with the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.
"All the guys are well qualified, and the challenge is to keep them here," Cortese said. "That's a challenge that affects a lot of small agencies. Others pay a little more money and they have some other enticements."
Sgt. Bruce Brending, who has served in White Salmon for 17 years, said retaining officers was a serious concern.
"Morale is at the lowest I've seen in 18 years," Brending said. "I'm concerned about the future of the department."
Brending pointed out that agencies such as the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office and the Skamania County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) would be happy to snag officers working in White Salmon.
In May, Mike Hepner left the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department and went to work for the Skamania County Sheriff's Office. According to Brending, the departure of another officer to a neighboring agency may be imminent.
"Our officers are held in high regard," Brending explained. "We have up and coming officers who could give anyone a run for their money. The trick is to keep them here. There are agencies to the east and west that would be glad to lateral these guys in at their first convenience -- and save the $30,000 in Police Academy costs."
The department recently hired Mike Belvin of White Salmon to replace Hepner. Belvin is expected to begin training at the Police Academy on Aug. 5.
Brending, who was one of the two finalists for the police chief's job, said he would have been willing to accept a salary less than what Chief Kindler was making and use the balance to boost salaries of the other officers.
"Bruce offered to take a lower wage to bring other officers up to par with their salaries, so we wouldn't lose them to Skamania County," explained Penny White Morris of the White Salmon City Council.
Brending added that he did not agree with the decision by Mayor Jones to hire a new chief from outside the department.
"I am frustrated and disappointed with her decision, and she knows that," Brending said. "But she has made the decision, and I will support the new chief."
Cortese said he believes one way to keep officers motivated is to offer fresh training opportunities.
"I plan to see if anyone is interested in bike patrols," Cortese said. "I went through the training in Arlington. It's a great way to meet the public, and I think it's a great way for the officers to interact with the public."
He said he doesn't plan any major changes in the department's procedures at this point, although he said he is considering having officers on foot a bit more.
"If time allows, I'd like to encourage more foot patrols," Cortese said. "But when there's only one officer on duty, that's a bit harder to do."
Cortese is also hoping the police office -- currently located in a back corner of the Park Center building -- can be relocated to a more visible location.
"I'd like to relocate to a bigger office, to where the public can access us better," he said. "But we need to find the money. Maybe in another year."
Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace said he believes Cortese is learning fast.
"I meet with him in the morning to have coffee and talk a little bit," Mace said. "He's still trying to get his feet wet there, but he seems like a great guy, eager and willing to learn, jumping in there and working on things. I'm glad to see that. We have a great working relationship with the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, and that will continue. Help is a phone call away."
Cortese, who worked for the White Salmon Police Department in the late 1970s and the Bingen Police Department in the 1980s, said he was glad to be back in the Bingen-White Salmon community.
"It's nice to have a chance to come back home, in a sense," he said.