Controversial State Patrol chief resigns


Herald Writer

Washington State Patrol Chief Annette Sandberg, the first woman and the youngest person to lead a state police organization, resigned Monday.

The announcement drew mixed reviews: good wishes for her future and praise for her accomplishments, as well as some views blaming her for problems and low morale.

"I think the fact that she’s leaving is enough to satisfy my concerns," said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

Haugen declined to specify her concerns about Sandberg.

"There’s no sense going back and dragging up old wounds," Haugen said. "I think there’s going to be a change in leadership, and that will be very good for the patrol.

"She certainly did do some pretty courageous and innovative things for the patrol."

Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who also is a patrol sergeant in southern Snohomish County, agreed that Sandberg has some notable achievements, including introducing promotional opportunities for women and minorities. But she also created problems, he said.

"I don’t like dancing on a person’s grave when they’re down, but this is probably a great day for the organization," Lovick said.

Speaking both as a legislator and a trooper, Lovick said: "She really tried to run the agency by intimidation, and the people who were around her didn’t appear to give her the advice she needed … She appeared to become vindictive near the end."

Morale is the lowest he’s seen in 27 years as a trooper, he said.

Sandberg began her career by shaking up the patrol. She vowed to get rid of the "good old boys network" and said there would be resignations, demotions and reassignments. She kept her word.

Lovick said he dislikes the way patrol personnel have been treated, saying there was almost a class system and an ‘us vs. them’ attitude — her administrative staff against those in the field.

Sandberg’s resignation is effective Jan. 1, but she agreed to remain longer if necessary.

She was unavailable for comment.

In September, Sandberg told district troopers in Marysville she wanted to end rumors of her departure. She said she was not looking for a job, and she had informed Gov. Gary Locke that she was happy to serve as long as he wished her to remain.

Jeff Weathersby, Locke’s deputy communications director, said there was no indication that Locke had asked Sandberg to step down.

"My understanding is she is resigning because she wants to do something else, and she felt it would be very difficult to be the head of the State Patrol and look for another job at the same time," Weathersby said.

A native of Moses Lake, Sandberg, 39, graduated from Central Washington University and joined the patrol in 1983. Then-Gov. Mike Lowry appointed her the patrol’s 16th chief in 1995, and Locke re-appointed her in 1997.

Patrol spokesman Capt. Eric Robertson said Sandberg accomplished a lot of things, including introducing a K9 program, working with other agencies to combat auto theft and implementing the collection of traffic-stop data. She is credited with providing national leadership in data collection to combat racial profiling allegations and developing a diverse work force.

Sandberg stirred more controversy recently in two personnel actions here in District 7.

Lt. Walt Fisch was placed on paid leave during an internal affairs investigation of unspecified allegations. The patrol first recommended firing him, then changed the recommendation to a 10-day suspension. Fisch is appealing.

His supervisor, Capt. Helmut Steele, was suddenly reassigned to Olympia and is also under investigation.

The state sheriff’s association has also had concerns about Sandberg, Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart said.

Under her leadership, the patrol has moved closer to becoming a state police organization instead of focusing on traffic enforcement and operating the state crime laboratory, he said.

For several years, sheriffs have been concerned about the patrol investigating homicides at highway rest stops and moving into community policing, areas better left to police and sheriffs, Bart said.

After numerous discussions, they finally got an agreement in writing about 18 months ago, he said.

Then the patrol got a grant to implement community-oriented policing, and "the line got blurry again," he said.

And Sandberg shifted accident investigation on county roads to the sheriff, something he’s had to absorb into his budget, he said.

"We still don’t do the fatal accidents. We’re still training for that," he said.

Sen. Jeralita "Jeri" Costa, D-Marysville, said Sandberg is leaving "at a time when there’s a lot of controversy. It was nice to have a woman in such a high-ranking position in what is normally considered a male-dominated field," she said.

"I wish her well and I hope the governor looks very carefully for her replacement," Costa said.

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