Snohomish chooses interim police chief to fill position

Council members voted unanimously to keep Capt. Robert Palmer, who has been in the job for months.

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Robert Palmer. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Robert Palmer. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

SNOHOMISH — Capt. Robert Palmer has been chosen to lead the Snohomish Police Department, after spending a few months temporarily filling in the position.

The Snohomish City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to make Palmer the next police chief. He took over after former chief Lt. Keith Rogers was reassigned within the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. That agency provides contracted police services in the city.

The city council discussed the decision at a previous meeting, but had questions about the contract and the fact that Palmer’s salary would cost the city $30,000 more per year to hire him as a captain.

Some on the city council wondered if another lieutenant could take over the position to save money. Others said they would be willing to pay to keep Palmer. His salary and benefits total about $200,000 a year.

Palmer has received strong recommendations from his colleagues and others. He’s worked for the sheriff’s office for 32 years, including in roles as a detective investigating homicides, crimes against children, narcotics and sex offenders.

He also has roots in the community. He lives in the area and his children attended Snohomish schools.

Another question was how long Palmer would stay in the position, because he is getting close to retirement. The five-year contract between the city and sheriff’s office expires at the end of 2021.

Palmer plans to spend at least three more years with the sheriff’s office, he said during the Tuesday night meeting.

“I hope this is my last permanent assignment,” he said. “I am open to about five years. That’s my retirement strategy, my personal plan I’ve discussed with my family.”

The council’s decision also changes some language in the remaining contract, including to make it so a captain can work in the position instead of a lieutenant. The sheriff’s office currently has four captains.

At first, councilmember Tom Merrill was hesitant about making Palmer the new chief right away. He was concerned about the money and felt there hadn’t been a thorough discussion.

On Tuesday Merrill shared why he now believes Palmer is the right choice. One reason is because of the size of Snohomish. About 10,000 people live in the town but thousands more visit each year.

He also talked about civil unrest across the country, and recent events in Snohomish.

“We have been on the front page of the local, regional and state papers, and mentioned by name in The Washington Post,” Merrill said.

In late May hundreds gathered downtown, some with guns and others showing affiliation with hate groups. A barber in town also has received attention for not following state orders to close during the pandemic.

“These are all situations our police chief, whoever it is, lieutenant or captain, is going to have to deal with,” Merrill said. “Do we want to entertain the idea in these times, at this point, with these recent events, a rookie lieutenant? Or do we want to go with an experienced captain who has been there and seen that?”

Council president Linda Redmon pointed out some people may want to see a leader who has less time in the position, who may be more flexible on how to handle different situations.

In the end, all five council members who were present voted in favor of choosing Palmer for the position. Councilmember Larry Countryman was excused from the meeting, and a seventh position is vacant as the city looks to fill it.

The city’s 2019-2020 law enforcement budget is about $7.8 million, city administrator Steve Schuller said during the meeting.

Palmer is expected to be sworn in once a contract is signed.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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