A major shakeup in the command staff is underway within the Spokane Police Department, with Chief Kirkpatrick announcing her retirement Friday morning.
KXLY4 sources said Thursday night that Chief Kirkpatrick was ready to resign her post and her last day in command could come as early as Friday. On Friday morning Spokane city spokesperson Marlene Feist confirmed Kirkpatrick submitted her retirement letter to Mayor Mary Verner with her official retirement date on January 2, 2012.
Feist said that she expects that Kirkpatrick will be in Spokane and will be actively serving as Chief of Police up until her retirement.
Kirkpatrick submitted two different letters announcing her retirement as Spokane's Police Chief. In one, dated November 6 and addressed to Mayor Verner, Kirkpatrick said that "[t]he top of the year is always a great time to start afresh with new directions and goals," announced her retirement date, and talked about being "blessed" with 30 years of service as a police officer and spoke of her gratitude to the people of Spokane and the Spokane Police Department.
In her second letter, dated November 11 and written to the police department and the city council, she talked about wanting to start off fresh at the top of the year but also addressed the Otto Zehm case.
"When I joined the SPD back in the summer of 2006, I had committed to stay five years and work to see the Zehm issue come to conclusion. Some legal issues remain in the Zehm case but we have seen a significant step toward resolution, and I expect more issues to be resolved before I leave," she wrote.
Before her retirement date was released, Kirkpatrick promoted Major Scott Stephens to the position of acting assistant chief on Thursday. Stephens will assume the duties currently assigned to Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks.
Nicks, who previously said he would also be retiring at the end of the year, has developed a serious medical condition and his doctors have advised him not to return to work. Feist confirmed that Stephens is serving as the acting Assistant Chief, but said that he is not replacing Jim Nicks. Nicks will retire in the 'no-so-distant' future, according to Feist, but she doesn't have a solid date of retirement yet.
Sources say Kirkpatrick is stepping up her departure for a number of reasons including Mayor Mary Verner's potential loss in last Tuesday's election to challenger David Condon. Initially, Kirkpatrick had planned to stay in Spokane and help Verner select Kirkpatrick's replacement. However, with Verner trailing her opponent, it appears Condon will end up appointing the chief of his choice.
Kirkpatrick is also reeling from losing a costly lawsuit in Spokane Superior Court. On November 4 a jury found Kirkpatrick had wrongly terminated a detective who was accused of threatening to kill his wife. The jury awarded former Spokane Detective Jay Mehring more than $700,000 in damages.
Also, even though Kirkpatrick was not in office when Otto Zehm died after a 2006 confrontation with police, her support of recently convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson put her at odds with Assistant Chief Jim Nicks, who said Thompson's use of force was not justified.
The controversy also became a political liability for Mayor Verner, who continues to trail David Condon in votes.
The plan now is for the search to begin for a new police chief by collecting resumes and materials, though the process will depend on who the mayor is - Verner or Condon - when the search begins. By charter, the mayor will select the new police chief while the city council will confirm the selection.
Hiring a chief is one of the most important things the city will do, since public safety is a top priority for the city and represents 30-percent of the city budget, so, according to Feist, the process will be a very public process. During the last selection for chief of police, the final candidates participated in public forums and a televised forum.
Feist said it will be unrealistic to have a new police chief in place by the time Kirkpatrick retires on January 2, which means the department will most likely go through a transitional phase with an acting chief running the department until one can be selected at the conclusion of the nationwide search.
Rob Kauder contributed to this report
RELATED DOCUMENT: Spokane Police Chief Kirkpatrick Retirement Letter