Oak Harbor interim police chief gets mayor's nod for top cop spot

Rick Wallace, the interim chief, was chosen by Mayor Jim Slowik to be the permanent chief of the Oak Harbor Police Department. The City Council will vote whether or not to conform the pick Monday.  - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Rick Wallace, the interim chief, was chosen by Mayor Jim Slowik to be the permanent chief of the Oak Harbor Police Department. The City Council will vote whether or not to conform the pick Monday.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik will recommend his pick for the next police chief at a special City Council meeting Monday night.

For anyone who knows him, Rick Wallace was the obvious choice to head the department of 43 employees with an annual budget of $4.7 million. He’s the interim chief, he was the long-time second-in-command, he’s the go-to guy with the institutional knowledge and the backbone of the respected department.

“His roots go very, very deep in the city of Oak Harbor,” Slowik said Thursday after making the decision. “You couldn’t find a more qualified and better applicant for police chief.”

Nevertheless, Slowik said it was tough to decide between Wallace and another highly-qualified candidate from within the department. Lt. John Dyer also made the short list of four candidates who went through a tough interviewing process Tuesday.

In addition to the internal candidates, Thomas Molitor, a chief deputy for the Skagit County Sheriff’s Department and a security professional who didn’t want his name released, were finalists for the job.

The city received 15 applications for the position from across the country. They were whittled down to the four men. Slowik created an interviewing process with two groups representing a wide swath of the community, including councilmen and the school superintendent. They questioned the men Tuesday and made recommendations to the mayor.

Slowik said the individual recommendations favored both Wallace and Dyer, with whom Slowik served on the school board. He was pleased that the officers within the department were considered such strong candidates.

“We felt that we should recognize an internal candidate,” he said, “but we wanted to make sure they stacked up against what was available.”

After interviewing the two men personally, Slowik finally picked Wallace.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he was extremely pleased with the choice.

“I have the highest regard for Rick, and have had nothing but positive experiences with him over the last nine years,” he said.

Wallace, has been captain since 1995, became interim police chief in December after former Chief Steve Almon returned to his home state of Oklahoma to care for ailing parents.

Wallace has lived in Oak Harbor nearly his entire life. He’s a 1970 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, which coincidentally was the same year serial killer Robert Yates graduated from the school. They played baseball together, but they weren’t good friends.

Wallace has been with the department for more than 30 years and has held just about every position that a commissioned officer can, including some that no longer exist. He started in 1977 as a jailer / dispatcher and soon moved to patrol. He was a detective, a sergeant, a detective sergeant, an administrative sergeant and finally the captain.

Wallace’s wife, Rhonda, is also an Oak Harbor native. They have three children: Amy has a family in Puyallup, but plans on moving back; Chad is a police officer in Iowa City; and Kendra is in high school.

Assuming the council approves the mayor’s pick, Wallace said he doesn’t have any plans for big changes, but hopes to improve on success. He said the department was more community-oriented in the past and he wants to return to that while avoiding some of the pitfalls.

He said the department will try different strategies for dealing with the issues that bug community members the most — noise, traffic, car prowls.

“I think we can come up with solutions that are more effective from our point of view,” he said.

The salary range for police chief is $6,280 to $8,194 a month.

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