Kent Mayor Dana Ralph swears in new Police Chief Rafael Padilla on Tuesday night at City Hall. STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph swears in new Police Chief Rafael Padilla on Tuesday night at City Hall. STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Padilla ‘thrilled’ to take over as Kent Police chief

‘My top priority is to keep us safe’

New Police Chief Rafael Padilla let it be known that although he lives in Puyallup, Kent’s his true home.

Moments after Mayor Dana Ralph swore in Padilla as chief at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Padilla shared a few thoughts about his new job.

“I am incredibly thrilled to begin this responsibility,” he said. “I have served here for 21 years and got an opportunity to grow with the community and have meaningful relationships, see the challenges and the successes. Really, what it has come down to is although I live a little ways down the road, Kent really is my city. Kent is my city and the Kent community are my people.”

Ralph promoted Padilla from assistant chief last week in an unexpected move to replace Ken Thomas, who served as chief for seven years and worked 29 years in the department. Just a week after Thomas stepped down, the city of Des Moines hired him on Tuesday as its new police chief.

“I am very honored that he will be serving our department and our community,” Ralph said at the council meeting about Padilla. “He has a long history in our department working with all of the different areas as well as a longstanding history of being supportive of our community.”

Padilla, who is president of the Meridian Kent Kiwanis Club, which he joined in 2010, said residents can count on him to help make sure Kent is a safe city.

“I take the responsibility serious and my top priority is to keep us safe and keep our quality of life as high as it can be, and we are going to do that,” he said.

Padilla praised the force, which includes 157 officers.

“To the men and women that serve with me in the department, I couldn’t be prouder of all of you – the finest men and women – top to bottom – anywhere,” Padilla said. “We will continue the tradition of excellence and the highest level of service, and we will make this our city.”

Council President Bill Boyce said he understands Ralph’s decision to promote Padilla rather than conduct a nationwide search for a new chief. As mayor, Ralph has the authority to replace city department heads.

“She feels like Padilla is qualified to be chief and I agree with that,” Boyce said in a phone interview. “With the rank and file, it does have stability there.”

Former Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan, now executive director of the Lacey-based Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, expects Padilla to do an excellent job.

“I worked with Chief Padilla when I served as Kent’s chief many years ago, and have always had great respect for him as a person and as a leader,” Strachan said in a phone interview. “I think he will do very well – he is a good listener and knows how to communicate well, both internally and externally.”

Strachan, the former King County sheriff and Bremerton police chief, foresees a smooth transition to Padilla from Thomas.

“I know it can be disruptive when an organization goes through a leadership change, but having worked with the members of Kent PD, I know they will stay focused on the community and doing a great job,” said Strachan, who was the Kent chief from 2006 to 2010.

Padilla will receive an annual salary of $176,736, according to city spokeswoman Dana Neuts, a boost of nearly $30,000 per year. He received an annual salary of $147,336 as an assistant chief. Thomas was paid $173,969 a year.

On Tuesday, Padilla credited his wife for helping him get his new job.

“I also want to thank my lovely wife, Commander Tracey Church – uh Padilla – it used to be Church,” said Padilla, who recently married Church. “Without her support, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Tracey Padilla is a Kent Police commander. She oversees overseeing the training unit, hiring and recruiting, social media and accreditation/research and development. She joined the department in 1990. She also is a member of the Meridian Kent Kiwanis Club.

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