The exhaustive search for Eugene’s new law enforcement leader ended on May 2, when Chris Skinner was sworn in as the Eugene Police Department’s new Chief of Police.
Skinner, who grew up in Kennewick, Washington, beat out 33 candidates for the position, surviving what he called a “rigorous hiring process” to replace former chief Pete Kerns, who retired in April 2017. Kerns agreed to stay on as interim chief until December of that year, after which he was replaced by David James, a former police chief in Carrollton, Texas.
Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz, who was in charge of hiring the new police chief, lauded praise on Skinner’s experience and “dedication to trust” to a room full of police officers, veterans and community members of the greater Eugene area.
“[Skinner] knows how to navigate the complicated and satisfying realm of community relationships,” Ruiz said.
In the absence of a permanent city hall, the swearing-in ceremony was held at Lane Community College’s Mary Spilde Campus in downtown Eugene. After being sworn in by circuit judge Wayne Allen, Skinner heaped praise on the EPD during his initial remarks.
“This department understands why they do what they do,” Skinner said. “The men and women of this department deeply care about this community.”
Skinner takes over a police department with a budget of over $53 million that has come under increased scrutiny in recent months. Earlier this year, EPD administrators revealed that officers did not respond to nearly one-third of all emergency calls and asked for increased funding to streamline communications and hire new dispatchers. A recent streak of highly-publicized armed robberies and assaults — crimes that have yet to be solved — also have many citizens on edge. During his remarks, Skinner laid out his goals for improving the EPD’s standing in the community.
“Policing is very much a monopoly. If you don’t like it, you don’t have the luxury of choice. You can’t call the Springfield police for help if you live in Eugene,” Skinner said. “[The Eugene police] won’t treat you like a monopoly, we’re going to treat you like customers. We’re going to build brand loyalty through the quality of our product.”
Before accepting the Eugene position, Skinner served as police chief in Richland, Washington, as well as deputy chief of police for the Hillsboro Police Department and a . In Richland, Skinner presided over 62 commissioned officers in a city of nearly 60,000. (Eugene’s police force currently employs 192 officers in a city of over 167,000.) In Richland, Skinner implemented what he called “a data-driven and progressive” strategy to reduce crime — using tools like predictive data analysis and community collaboration — and plans to bring that same strategy to Eugene. According to public records, crime rates in Richland dropped during the first three years of Skinner’s tenure, but have since steadily risen to a rate close to the beginning of Skinner’s time there. Furthermore, Eugene’s crime rate is nearly double that of Richland’s, though crime has seen a reduction in recent years.
For Lara Parker, a community organizer who attended the ceremony in an attempt to speak with the new chief in-person, Skinner’s past experience alone isn’t enough to win her over.
“I’ve been to Richland, and I know it’s nothing like Eugene,” Parker said. “Eugene isn’t just a regular-old town. We have something special here in our community, and it takes a special sort of tact to keep it that way while still dealing with our unique challenges. Jon [Ruiz] can praise him all he wants, but I won’t be impressed until I actually see him do good work.”
Skinner will earn an annual salary of $153,171. The new chief plans to host several community meetings to allow citizens of Eugene to voice their concerns and make suggestions about public safety policies in his first few months in office.