She's now police chief in Snohomish County's largest city.
Atwood, 50, of Everett, has been rising through the ranks of the Everett Police Department since 1989. She's worked from a squad car, a boat, a bicycle and, while on the vice squad, a street corner. She's not sure what to do with a big downtown office.
As chief, Atwood wants to provide stability and strategy. This year has brought significant changes to the department and its command staff. Her three years as deputy chief prepared her to lead, she said.
"This is a great opportunity and all I could really wish for," she said.
The job won't be without challenges.
The Everett Police Department is authorized to have 201 commissioned officers. Its 2011 budget was $28.5 million.
The department is short-staffed, she said. They've lost officers to injuries, military leave and frozen vacancies. City dollars are tight.
Atwood knows the police will be expected to make cuts. The city keeps the cops in the loop, she said. She knows she'll have to comb through the budget for savings.
"We are all hands on deck on where we can scrape and where we can save," she said.
Personally, her biggest challenge will be leading the department through tragedies, she said. As the city's top cop, she can't lose her cool when violence is directed at the city's most vulnerable -- its youngest and oldest people.
One of her first goals is overseeing the department's first formal, written five-year strategic plan. It's the most comprehensive planning process the department has ever undertaken, she said.
The plan will help the department redefine its vision and mission, she said.
The strategic planning process is scheduled to start in August. The police department will be reaching out to city leaders, community groups, businesses and schools for input. The strategic plan will identify priorities and trends, Atwood said. It will set goals and benchmarks to measure accomplishments.
Previous plans were more informal and lacked measurable objectives, priorities and expectations, she said.
"I really think it's going to have a great impact on our service to the community," she said.
Atwood isn't officially chief yet, but she's taken over daily operations. Police Chief Jim Scharf planned to retire in March after 16 years as chief, but he delayed his formal retirement until the department completes its internal investigation into a fatal shooting by officer Troy Meade. That's expected to happen by the end of this month.
While transitioning to chief, Atwood has felt tremendous support from police executives around the county, she said.
One of the biggest turning points in her career came when Scharf told his command staff to get involved with community nonprofits. Atwood started out with the Snohomish County Children's Commission in 2005.
Over the years, she worked with various groups outside law enforcement, including health professionals and victims' advocates.
Those connections changed the way she viewed the community, where her great-grandparents immigrated from Norway, the place where she grew roots.
She grew up Kathy Solie, the daughter of Everett natives Jerry and Diane Solie and Bill and Susie Rucker. Her family used to own the Solie Funeral Home on Colby Avenue, where she lived for a time as a child.
Going to graduate school at Seattle University in 1999 while working fulltime as a police sergeant also helped her see the big picture, she said. It taught her to pay attention to City Hall, and how everything the police do affects the rest of the community.
Snohomish Police Chief John Turner is a longtime friend.
Some of Atwood's greatest work has been with the Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center, he said. The center was partly a product of her "vision and wisdom."
Atwood helps people in law enforcement see outside of the police perspective, he said. She has a knack for developing better policies, procedures and best practices models.
"I was just ecstatic when Jim Scharf told me she'd be the new chief," he said. "She is well-liked among all the chiefs here in the county. Having somebody like that, with Kathy's character and energy, is good for the law enforcement profession."
Atwood also hopes to continue the department's commitment to youth services, such as cops-and-kids sports camps and gang prevention programs, she said.
Atwood downplays the significance of being Everett's first female police chief. She's more about the police work than gender politics.
Since people have started calling her "Chief," however, she's seen a change in how women and girls react to her, she said. She's suddenly aware that they're watching her, especially little girls who want to become cops.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs estimates there are 10 female police chiefs and one sheriff in the state, policy director Joanna Arlow said. The organization keeps track of about 200 police executives around the state.
Meanwhile, chapters are closing at the Everett Police Department. Officers are looking to unite and move forward, Atwood said. The department will need strong leadership and support.
"There will always be more challenges ahead," she said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org
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