First year back on the job
Cheney Police Chief John Hensley lists achievements such as new firing range, Volunteers in Policing while staffing, equipment challenges seen in 2013
John Hensley said he made a critical mistake when he retired from 28 years service in California law enforcement in 2006, one he won’t repeat next time he decides to hang up his badge.
“Next time I retire, I’m going to have a plan,” Hensley said.
After five years away from working with the boys in blue Hensley found he was missing the day to day aspects of the career. So in 2011, he applied for the Cheney Police Chief position left vacant when former chief Jeff Sale departed for Bend, Ore., and on Dec. 14, was sworn as the head of Cheney’s 12-man department.
After having served as police chief in California cities such as Cypress, Costa Mesa and Desert Host Springs, Hensley said one of his biggest challenges since become Cheney’s police chief is adjusting to Washington’s law enforcement requirements and procedures, which is different than California’s. He provided as an example the situation of booking a female suspect into the city’s jail, a circumstance where Washington requires more protocols than California and which Cheney was not staffed to handle.
“Every place I’ve been before I’ve had a jail staff,” Hensley said, adding they eventually worked out an agreement to transfer female suspects to Spokane County for jail bookings.
Another challenge has been Cheney’s status as a smaller department, particularly when it comes to working with larger agencies at the city of Spokane and the County Sheriff’s Office. It wasn’t something he faced when working in California, such as at Costa Mesa – population 110,000 plus.
“When we’re at the table with the others they forget that Cheney is here sometimes,” Hensley said. As an example, he cited the coming communications upgrade linking all municipal departments, both police and fire, together in one system. Larger law enforcement agency officers might not respond to every call for service.
“They’re the big dogs, but what works for them, doesn’t work for the Cheney Police Department,” he said. “Our particular way of doing business is we don’t say no to anyone, even if it’s a call that somebody’s cable (TV) doesn’t work.”
Hensley said that relationship with the larger agencies is beginning to change, as is the relationship with its largest employer – Eastern Washington University. While always being good and supportive, Hensley said he and EWU Police Chief Tim Walters have strengthened it even more through weekly meetings, meetings that have facilitated working out issues such as a recent booking contract.
That’s one of the things Hensley lists as an accomplishment in his first year. He also cites creation of a firing range for department officers on city property near the wastewater treatment plant, saving Cheney money by not having to rent ranges in the county.
Another accomplishment is the formation of the Special Enforcement Detail in conjunction with EWU where five Cheney officers and one university alternate work together on gang enforcement and liquor control issues. Another is the Volunteers in Policing Program where 10 citizens help the department out with tasks such as records keeping, property and evidence filings and traffic control for special events, freeing up department officers for more patrol and investigative work.
Finally, Hensley noted that overall crime dropped 3 percent in 2012 while calls for service increased 9.5 percent.
“That goes back to people in town knowing that if they call us, we’re coming,” he said.
While accomplishments are good, Hensley sees some issues coming up in 2013. The department’s sector policing program needs to be re-examined with an eye to changes and training that reflect the “Cheney way of policing,” something Hensley said he plans to have a cross section of officers work on in order to create ownership in the program.
The department’s vehicle fleet is “tired,” Hensley said, with some cars over 10 years old when most law enforcement agencies get replacements around year five. The department has purchased three and will lease two this year with an eye to potentially leasing more if that works out.
There are also staffing issues, and Hensley said they will look at these with an eye to who’s doing what and how some of the work is getting accomplished. To solve issues, the department may look to hiring paraprofessionals; something Hensley said might prove controversial.
Overall, Hensley is happy with coming out of retirement to take charge of Cheney’s police force. It wasn’t something he had really considered when he and his wife moved to the area four years ago, but is glad he did, citing a good supportive relationship with Mayor Tom Trulove, City Administrator Arlene Fisher and the City Council.
He also credited Cmdr. Rick Campbell, a Cheney native and one of the finalists for the chief position in 2011, with much of the department’s success, combining over 20 years of Cheney policing to Hensley’s almost 30 years of experience to create a blend of the familiar with the new.
Finally, of the five police departments he has worked in over the years, Hensley said Cheney’s is the finest, particularly since its officers are qualified to work in many other agencies, but choose to be here.
“Man for man this is the finest group of police officers I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “The people in this community can rest assured that they’ve got the best officers going.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.