Oregon's new police chief is a familiar face to city officials and fellow police officers, who say he is improving morale in their department.
Interim Police Chief Rick Stager has been acting chief since December. He will take over as the department's official police chief in June after the retirement of Chief Tom Gulch, who has been on paid administrative leave since the end of last year.
An investigation conducted around that time determined that Chief Gulch had allowed a work environment to exist that fostered low morale, which Chief Stager said he is seeking to change.
Mayor Marge Brown, City Administrator Ken Filipiak, and Chief Stager acknowledged the department's morale situation.
"There was just a culture of favoritism and unequal treatment," Chief Stager said. "Some officers would be punished for certain things while others were allowed to do the same without the same repercussions."
Detective Janet Zale, who specializes in investigating computer-related crimes, said Chief Stager is "more approachable" than previous police chiefs and is more open to new ideas.
"He's current enough with today's law enforcement as far as technology and trends," she said. "He's willing to listen to your ideas. A lot of older chiefs are more afraid of technology."
Chief Stager struggled with the decision whether to take his new job as his wife, Deborah, was battling cancer.
She died April 26.
"I just wasn't sure if I'd want to do this job anymore," Chief Stager said.
But with an unsolicited vote of confidence from several Oregon city councilmen, who said they noticed how the police department had changed under Chief Stager's leadership, and a request from Mayor Brown at a recent city banquet, he accepted the job.
"I think I've seen [Chief Stager] at more roll calls than the previous chiefs I've had," Detective Scott Wells said. "I don't know if you can supervise a whole department and not leave these four walls. That's been done in the past."
Chief Stager has served his law enforcement career with the Oregon Police Department, beginning in June, 1978.
He was promoted to sergeant in 1986, where he remained most of his nearly 30-year career until being appointed interim chief in December. Before that, he said, he planned to retire.
Since he took over, the chief has had Oregon officers working to update their department's rules and regulations handbook.
"They're kind of outdated," he said. "They deal with how do we handle domestic violence calls, bomb threats, it's basically how do we handle critical instances. By January, I made the decision we needed to update our general orders and regulations. The officers' deadline is in June."
Chief Stager's annual salary will be $79,200.
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