Chief McAlpine Celebrates Three Years on the Job
“I am grateful for the opportunities and consider it a privilege to serve the city in a leadership capacity,” says Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine on her three-year anniversary. “Every day I’m exposed to some pretty awesome people inside the department, city and out in the community.”
Kathy McAlpine is known for being a highly-engaged police chief. She regularly attends officer roll calls, stays informed about trends in calls for service, and timely communicates with staff. Despite her rank, she maintains an open door policy, encouraging feedback from all employees.
Chief McAlpine also enjoys a strong connection with the Tigard community. “We are supported by our community and they trust us. They stop by our department to express their appreciation for our first responders and see what resources they can provide us. That goes a long way for me wanting to come in uniform every day to serve this community.”
In kind, Chief McAlpine attends many community meetings and events ranging from National Night Out, Rotary Club meetings to a Tigard bunco night where she was a featured speaker. She started Chat-with-a-Chief events out in the community, and recently has sponsored virtual events, allowing community members to engage in an open dialogue and learn more about their police department.
When it comes to operations, she reveals, “My time here can be described as this steady pressure on the gas pedal. I needed to hit the ground running from the start. Even after three years, there is always something to be done. Cops are great at handling fires, but you can’t constantly be reactive. My job has been to strategically move us forward despite all of the distractions that naturally arise in this line of work.”
Within the first nine months of her tenure, Chief McAlpine set the course for the department with the development of a 3-year strategic plan. The plan factored in employee and community surveys, industry best practices, five years of crime trends, response times, staffing levels, overtime spending, case clearance, and community outreach efforts.
“I pride myself on understanding the value of the strategic plan. It’s not something you do to check off a box and leave on a shelf. It is a living, breathing document with a blueprint for success. It demonstrates to our future leaders how to strategically think and make conscientious decisions.”
The department has already accomplished many of the plan’s goals. One highlight is achieving accreditation from the Oregon Accreditation Alliance after meeting all 103 standards and complying with industry best practices.
Despite the best-laid plans, including a continuity of operations plan for emergencies, “we have to be nimble during these uncertain times,” says McAlpine. “We are learning every day about coronavirus.” That includes discovering more about what kind of supplies and personal protective equipment are needed, decontamination practices, and policies needed to ensure officer and community safety. “We want to protect our community while also trying to protect ourselves, so we stay healthy, our families stay healthy, and we can come into work again tomorrow.”
Chief McAlpine considers staffing to be her biggest challenge during her three years on the job. When the 2018 levy failed, the department had to cut four vacant sworn positions and strategically reassign personnel. As a result, a lieutenant, two school resource officers, and narcotics detective positions were eliminated. The department also and temporarily held six positions vacant during the budget year. “We are a full service organization,” says Chief McAlpine. “We need adequate staffing not just in patrol, but also to ensure there are enough school resource officers, traffic officers, and detectives to provide the community the level of service they deserve and expect.”
On many patrol shifts, officers are at minimum staffing levels of 3-4 officers. As demand has increased due to population growth over the years, officers are often running from call to call.
At times, the pace they must maintain can affect the quality of service and, in some cases, put officers at risk. “Do I wait for back up or do I go in? That’s never a good thing. If an officer is responding to a suicide attempt when back up is two minutes away, I may decide to go in to stop him because it could be the difference between life and death. That’s not an ideal situation because this person could try to do a suicide by cop. You don’t want to live by that. It’s important to have enough officers on the street.”
Chief McAlpine and supervisors are trying to manage resources as best as they can and help prevent officer burnout. The City Council has also referred a police services levy to the May 2020 ballot to fund additional officers.
Over her 34-year career, Chief McAlpine has experienced many successes, lessons learned, and challenges along the way. “I have realized that the only thing that is constant is change,” she says. “You have to be adaptive, whether laws, technology, equipment or, expectations from the community are changing.” That philosophy has served her well during her three years at the helm of the Tigard Police Department.