Elgin police chief, officer turn in resignations

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer October 12, 2011 08:14 pm
ELGIN — The city of Elgin is looking for new police officers to replace the chief and an officer who handed in their resignations this week. In a well-attended meeting at city hall, Mayor John Stover announced that Chief Kevin Lynch and Officer Erik Kilpatrick have quit. Until replacements are hired, law enforcement services will be covered by the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

The resignations cap a lengthy controversy that reached a peak Aug. 1 when Kilpatrick shot Elgin resident Richard Shafer to death in a domestic disturbance call.

A grand jury ruled the shooting justified, but that didn’t quiet an uproar from citizens who complained that Kilpatrick was always too quick to draw his gun, and that the the police department generally failed to effectively serve the community.

Stover said Lynch will continue to serve until Oct. 28. Kilpatrick, who is still on administrative leave, will be gone from the department Oct. 16.

Normally, three officers staff the department. The third position is currently vacant as well.

“We have no officers on duty,” Stover said.

Besides voting to accept the resignations, the council also settled a question about whether the city would continue to provide law enforcement services, or disband the department and contract with the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

In a unanimous vote, the governing body decided to keep the city department and forge ahead with finding new officers. Administrator Terrie Richards said the city is advertising locally and nationwide.

In answer to a question from the audience, Stover said contracting with Union County would cost the city more than maintaining a local police force. He also expressed concern about entering into a multi-year contract with the Sheriff’s Office during a time of economic uncertainty.

“If the (Boise Cascade) mill goes down, tax revenue goes down. If we have a contract with the sheriff, we’re locked in three years and have to pay them. With our own police department, we can lay a person off for a time if we need to,” he said.

In more talk, Councilor Alan Duffy said he thinks it is best for the city to retain local control. And Councilor Dick Miller said a decision to keep the department reflects the will of the people.

“We’ve read the reports and the majority of people say they want to keep their own police department,” Miller said.

About 40 people attended the meeting. Several said they hope officers from the local area can be hired.

Richards said she has so far received responses to the city’s ads from officers in Texas, Wyoming and California, but none from the local area.

“Nobody local is knocking down our door to be a police officer here,” she said.

People at the meeting also asked if a citizens committee could be formed to take part in the hiring process. Stover said something could be set up.

In other discussion related to the police department, Stover said the city has received the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police’s independent report on police department policy and procedures.

The mayor said the council hasn’t had time to thoroughly review the document, but added that some of its recommendations may be too costly to implement.

He said the report recommends buying new police vehicles, and adding a fourth officer.

“Those are things the city of Elgin can’t afford,” he said.

Still, the report is likely to lead to changes in the way the department operates.

“I believe it points out some serious policy issues that have to be reviewed,” Duffy said.

The report is available for review at city hall. The Observer requested a copy Tuesday. Richards said she couldn’t immediately provide one.

Contacted Wednesday morning, Lynch expressed disgust over The Observer’s ongoing coverage of the Shafer shooting and police department controversy, and said he would not comment on his resignation.