Many people were taken by surprise when the City of Tigard announced on Sept. 13 the upcoming retirement of Police Chief Kathy McAlpine, effective Jan. 24, 2024.
But for McAlpine, it was a thoughtful decision after six-and-a-half years on the job. “I came to a crossroads,” the city’s first female police chief said the following day. “The decision was not made in a vacuum. I knew at a minimum I wanted to put in five years here, but when is the time to leave? Now is the time. You always want to leave on a high note. I’m at peace with the decision, and I have the support of my family.”
As for future plans, McAlpine first will move back to Washington, where she served in the Tacoma Police Department for more than 30 years. “My family is all there,” she said. “But never say never (about doing something else). I may have the opportunity to continue to work at the state level or with the Legislature in the area of public safety in Oregon. Or if I get the opportunity to mentor, I would love to do that. I’m open to mentoring women pursuing careers in law enforcement, but first I want to take a break and decompress.”
On the job in Tigard, McAlpine said she pushed the department to follow the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which identifies the best policing practices and offers recommendations on how those practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust.
McAlpine’s mantra has been to be accessible, approachable and transparent with open communication. “I wanted (the public) to be able to call me and talk about things – the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “I have always made myself available. Any employee in the department can come and talk to me. Where you get energy is through connections with people. It is powerful to work together collaboratively.”
After McAlpine leaves in January, police Commander Jamey McDonald will be the interim chief. The city has a police services levy on the May 2024 ballot, and McAlpine said she expects that a new police chief would not start until after the election. Voters approved the original five-year levy in 2020, and this one would continue the current rate of $0.29 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for five more years. In part, the levy provides an additional eight patrol officers, one school resource officer, and de-escalation and crisis intervention training for every patrol officer.
“I don’t think they want to introduce a new police chief with the election pending,” McAlpine said. “Chief searches can be pretty extensive, and it will be a natural transition for Jamey to lead the department. This gives me three months to talk to people and introduce him around.”
Why Jan. 24th as her last day? “It’s my dad’s birthday,” McAlpine said. “He passed, and I had to pick a date, so I gave a nod to my dad.”
As for how McAlpine, who started working in Tigard in April 2017, judges her tenure as chief, “it’s all rainbows,” she joked. “But seriously, most chiefs will tell you that we’re our own hardest critics.” She led the department through the Covid-19 pandemic; dealing with an over-crowded, outdated police facility; the killing of George Floyd; the movement to defund the police; the Jan. 6, 2021, police shooting of Jacob Macduff in Tigard; and the riot the next night as a group of about 100 protesters caused significant damage to downtown Tigard and the police station.
“Every chief thinks, ‘I wish it hadn’t happened on my watch,’” McAlpine said. But she said she later talked to Macduff’s mother, Maria, and felt they got closure.
“Anyone can lead in the good times,” McAlpine said. “You get tested in the challenging times. Hopefully people will remember that I was transparent and approachable. I want to thank the community for putting their trust in me, and I am grateful to the community and department for their support.”
McAlpine came to Tigard with an extensive background in policing. She rose through the ranks in the Tacoma Police Department, from police officer to detective to sergeant to lieutenant to captain to assistant chief.
In Tigard, she led the department to its first state accreditation and later re-accreditation through the Oregon Accreditation Alliance. She developed the city’s first Strategic Plan to lay out goals, priorities and future direction of the department over the next three to five years and worked to create a Police Transparency webpage along with elevating an open dialogue on policing, crime trends, successes and concerns through a public-facing monthly “dashboard.”
McAlpine also partnered with the Public Safety Advisory Board to review and evaluate department policies and procedures over an 18-month period, which led to the city earning the 2022 Good Governance Award from the League of Oregon Cities.
In addition, McAlpine represented Tigard on several regional and state boards and associations.
In the city’s press release, City Manager Steve Rymer said, “The City of Tigard is very fortunate to have had Chief McAlpine leading our Police Department over the past 6 ½ years. She is to be commended for her integrity, professionalism and dedication. Because of her leadership, we focus on protecting our entire community, openly engage in dialogue with our community, and have a well-trained and dedicated Police Department. I’d like to personally thank her for her leadership and service.”
McAlpine added in the press release, “I am so grateful to everyone in our incredible Police Department and in the Tigard community for the time we’ve shared together. Leading this department has been the highlight of my career. I deeply appreciate your trust in me and have every confidence in the future of this professional organization.”
According to the press release, details on a public celebration of McAlpine’s career will be announced closer to her retirement date.