Changing of chiefs surprises Kent Police union

But president says ‘morale improved’ with Padilla promotion

Even Kent Police officers were “surprised” when Mayor Dana Ralph promoted Assistant Chief Rafael Padilla to replace Chief Ken Thomas.

“We were all pretty surprised,” said Ken Clay, president of the Kent Police Officers Association, the union that represents about 150 officers, in an email this week about the changing of the chiefs.

Ralph gave Thomas just one-day notice earlier this month when she promoted Padilla, who has worked 21 years for Kent. The city of Des Moines has since hired Thomas as police chief. Thomas served seven years as chief in Kent and worked 29 years for the department.

It’s been an eventful few weeks for Kent officers.

Voters on April 24 rejected Proposition A (57 to 43 percent) to increase the city’s utility tax to 8 percent from 6 percent to hire 23 more officers. Thomas and city leaders wanted the increased staff to help improve public safety and reduce the nearly $2 million per year in overtime costs for officers.

“When Proposition A failed to pass, it hit our officers pretty hard,” Clay said. “It was going to bring some much needed relief. Without the proposition, some tough decisions are going to have to be made.”

But Clay said the officers look forward to having Padilla handle the necessary changes.

“We are very excited to have a new police chief who is up to the task,” Clay said. “Morale at the police department has already improved with Chief Padilla – he brings a new, fresh energy that is contagious.”

Clay’s confident things are looking up for the department.

“We are very excited to move forward, continue to grow and continue to be the best agency in the region,” Clay said. “We have complete faith in our mayor and new police chief to make decisions that positively impact our PD.”

It remains to be seen what changes will be made to address staffing, but Ralph said at the May 15 City Council meeting that she will not send the police measure back out to voters. After the defeat of the measure, Ralph initially said she would seek another vote on an utility tax hike. The mayor plans to work with Padilla to figure out changes in police service.

The police union, which endorsed Ralph over Jim Berrios in the mayoral race in November, is in the final year of a three-year labor agreement with the city of Kent. Under the contract, officers and sergeants received a 3.6 percent wage increase in 2016; a 3 percent boost in 2017; and another 3 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2018.

The force will be getting new vehicles by the end of this year as part of a new car-per-officer, take-home program. The City Council on May 15 approved using funds from the traffic cameras that catch speeders in school zones to pay for the program. Kent will spend $868,000 on 14 new vehicles this year as well as in 2019 and 2020 to initiate the program, which adds additional vehicles to the force so officers no longer will share cars.

Vehicles cost about $62,000 each fully equipped with police gear, so the city will pay about $2.6 million over three years. The traffic cameras brought in $1.2 million last year to the city.

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